Last week on September 11 2013, New Age published five articles on a series of AC Nielsen/Democracy International opinion polls undertaken in Bangladesh in the past year. It was the first time that results of the polls had been published
For those interested in Bangladesh and wanting to get a better understanding of what people's view in the country actually are on a variety of different issues the polls are absolutely fascinating.
Below are the articles, with links to the original pieces in New Age
1. Significant swing towards BNP
AL hopes lie with ‘undecided voters’
A series of international standard opinion polls conducted over the past year show a significant swing of popular support towards the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, putting the current opposition party in a strong position to win the next national elections due to take place before 24 January 2014, New Age can reveal.
The most recent poll conducted in July 2013 put BNP’s support at 43 points, 11 percentage points ahead of the Awami League and more than double the results of a November 2012 survey which at that time found the BNP’s support to be at only 20 per cent.
Although the headline result of the July 2013 poll is good news for the BNP, the Awami League still has much to play for as the survey found that 19 per cent of all voters — one fifth of the total electorate — had still not made up their mind.
The July 2013 poll does not appear to be a freak result as two opinion polls carried out between the two polls found the opposition party gradually gaining ground over the Awami League.
A January 2013 poll showed the BNP had increased its support to 32 percent and a poll in April found that the percentage of people willing to vote for the BNP had increased to 38.
Support for the Awami League had in the same period flat-lined — remaining unchanged in the January and April 2013 polls, and only rising slightly to 32 per cent in the most recent poll in July.
The question asked of all respondents was: ‘If the election is held today, which party would you think you are likely to vote for?’
The polls — which were shared with New Age — were conducted by the pollster AC Nielsen as part of the Democratic Participation and Reform programme, which is funded by the American and British aid bodies, USAID and UKAID, and implemented by the international non-governmental organisation Democracy International.
Whilst this is the first time that the results of the polls have been made public, they were shared with the four main political parties after the completion of each survey.
The polls, which involved face-to-face interviews with between 2,400 to 2,500 randomly selected people throughout Bangladesh, also asked their views on other issues of the day including the caretaker government, the war crimes trials and the Shahbagh protests (see adjoining articles).
Democracy International says that it uses the most modern statistical methods of polling employed elsewhere in the world and is confident that ‘statistically, the views of those surveyed accurately represent the opinions of all Bangladeshi voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 per cent.’
The poll results also show that whilst the BNP is currently more popular in all age categories, it has particular support amongst first-time voters, now aged 22 or under.
The preference of first-time voters is particularly significant as they are likely to account for about 15 per cent of the entire electorate at the next elections.
The July 2013 poll found that 46 per cent of the 18–22 age category supported the BNP whilst only 29 per cent supported the Awami League.
In 2006, at the time when the BNP was last in office, this cohort of voters was aged between 11 and 15 years, with little knowledge of the current opposition party’s period in office.
The BNP’s increased popular support is though not simply the result of its appeal to young voters; it is also due to former AL voters turning to the BNP.
All four polls between November 2012 and July 2013 show that almost a half of those who had voted for the Awami League in the 2008 election said that they would no longer vote for the party - with as many as 24 per cent of 2008 AL supporters stating in the July 2013 poll that they had changed their allegiance to the BNP.
In contrast, 90 per cent of those who voted for the BNP at the last election stated in July 2013 that they continued to support the party. In November 2012, this figure was only 70 per cent.
A particularly significant finding of the polls is how well the BNP is doing in those constituencies which historically, looking at the four elections results since 1991, the Awami League has won by healthy margins.
In the 41 constituencies which, on an average over the past four elections the Awami League candidate won by a margin of votes of between 7 and 14 percentage points (which Democracy International terms ‘AL-leaning’ seats) the July 2013 poll found that the BNP was, on an average, winning by a margin of 17 per cent (51 per cent the BNP to 34 per cent the Awami League).
And in the 72 constituencies which historically over the post-1991 elections, the AL candidate has won on an average by a margin of more than 14 percentage points — the ‘strong AL seats’ — the BNP, according to the July 2013 poll, was at level pegging with the Awami League (40 per cent the BNP to 38 per cent the Awami League).
The July 2013 poll also found that whilst the Awami League continues to have more support in rural (34 per cent) compared to urban areas (25 per cent), the BNP has greater support than the Awami League in both parts of the country, with support for the opposition party at 42 and 44 per cent in both rural and urban Bangladesh respectively.
The polls provide no clear reasons for the swing to the BNP between November 2012 and July 2013 although the nine months period included four war crimes trials convictions, the ensuring political violence, the Shahbagh protests, allegations against ‘bloggers,’ the two Hefazet rallies in Dhaka, and fuel price increases, some or all which may have been factors.
The last poll was undertaken after the four city corporation elections, held in June 2013.
Despite the swing to the BNP, a poll in January 2013, showed that the prime minister continues to have wide popular support — with 52 per cent of people saying that they ‘liked’ her. This was 2 percentage points less than the 54 per cent who ‘liked’ the opposition leader Khaleda Zia. The poll also found that 30 per cent of people did not like either leader.
Democracy International emphasised to New Age that the ‘views expressed in these surveys are those of the respondents who were selected using a statistical sampling method and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organisation or its donors, USAID/UKAID.’
Although the July 2013 headline poll results point to a significant swing towards the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the electorate’s positive views of their own financial well-being provide the Awami League with reasons to hope that the popular mood in the country, particularly amongst the undecided voters, could turn back towards the party before elections.
When asked in July 2013, ‘Has the Bangladesh economy improved, worsened, or stayed the same under the current government?’ 46 per cent of the respondents were of the view that the economy had ‘improved’ and only 38 per cent stated that the ‘economy had ‘worsened.’ Sixteen per cent stated that they thought that the economy had stayed the same.
And when the voters were specifically asked whether they were better or worse off ‘than five years ago,’ the results were practically the same; 48 per cent said that they were ‘better off,’ 36 per cent said that they were ‘worse off’ with 16 percent stating that nothing had changed.
The results could be significant for the forthcoming elections as the perception of voters’ economic well-being before elections is in many countries considered a good indicator of whether they will vote for the incumbent party or for a change — with those who consider themselves to have economically improved more likely to vote for the incumbent party.
With much hanging on how the undecided voters (which the poll showed accounted for 19 per cent of the total electorate) finally decide for which party they will vote, it is notable that 40 per cent of the undecided voters stated that they were ‘better-off’ compared with only 32 per cent who stated that they were ‘worse-off.’
The results of one other question, which is also thought to be a good proxy for how people will vote in an election, provided mixed fortunes for the governing party.
In April 2013, when voters were asked the question, ‘Overall, do you think things in Bangladesh are headed in the right direction, or are they headed in the wrong direction?’ the results were bad news for the Awami League.
Eighty-four per cent stated that they were headed in the wrong direction with only 14 per cent stating otherwise.
However, when asked in July 2013 the same question, the figures had significantly changed.
The number of those who thought that the country was headed in the wrong direction had reduced to 58 per cent with the number of those feeling that the country was moving in the right direction rising to 37 per cent — a significant uptick for the Awami League.
The policy area where the government is consistently considered by voters to have most succeeded is in the area of education.
When voters in July 2013 were asked what were the ‘three main achievements of the current government,’ more than a half of all the respondents (52 per cent) mentioned ‘improvements in the educational sector.’
The decision by the government to provide free textbooks to all primary and secondary school students, the nationalisation of more than 27,000 primary schools, and the appointment of tens of thousands of new teachers may well have been behind the positive views of voters.
In addition, a fifth of the voters (21 per cent) mentioned improvements in the buildings of communication infrastructure (roads, flyovers, etc) and 13 per cent mentioned agriculture as amongst the government’s achievements.
Other policy decisions considered positively were ‘women’s empowerment’, the ‘health sector’ and war crimes trials — each mentioned by 11 per cent of voters. ‘Increasing production of electricity’ and ‘digital Bangladesh’ was mentioned by 10 per cent of voters.
Nineteen per cent of those questioned, however, stated that the government ‘has had no success.’
The poll, involving face-to-face interviews with 2,500 randomly selected people throughout Bangladesh, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent, was conducted by the pollster AC Nielsen as part of the Democratic Participation and Reform programme, which is funded by the American and British aid bodies, USAID and UKAID, and implemented by the international non-governmental organisation Democracy International.
The level of voter support for the principal allies of the both of Bangladesh’s main political parties has dropped by more than a half since the 2008 national elections, with Jamaat-e-Islami’s support as low as 1 per cent and the Jatiya Party 3 per cent, according to a national opinion poll conducted in July 2013.
In 2008, Jamaat, an ally of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, had received 4 per cent of the national vote, which at that time was the lowest level of support the party had received in the four elections since 1990, with the Jatiya Party, an ally of the Awami League, receiving about 8 per cent in the last elections.
As the levels of support for these two parties are in the low percentages, it is possible that the small decline in support found in these polls are within the margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points and may not be that meaningful.
The July 2013 poll found that Jamaat only retained the support of 57 per cent of voters who said that they had previously supported the party in 2008, with nearly a third of these 2008 Jamaat supporters (29 per cent) stating that they would now vote for the BNP.
In a poll nine months earlier in November 2012, the vast majority of 2008 Jamaat supporters, 89 per cent, had continued to support the party.
The new decline in Jamaat’s support appears to have particularly occurred in the last three months as polls in January and April 2013 showed that the party’s support was holding then at 3 per cent.
The July 2013 poll suggests that the decline in the Jatiya party’s support is due to its loss of support to both the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Seven per cent of those who had voted for the Jatiya party in the 2008 elections said in July that they would vote for the Awami League and 10 per cent said that they would now support the BNP.
The polls, involving face-to-face interviews with between 2400 and 2,500 randomly selected people throughout Bangladesh, was conducted by the pollster AC Nielson as part of the Democratic Participation and Reform programme, which is funded by the US and UK government aid bodies, USAID and UKAID, and implemented by the international non-governmental organisation Democracy International.
4. Popular support for caretaker govt
A majority of voters, including most Awami League supporters, are against the decision of the government to remove the caretaker government system, according to an international standard election poll that was undertaken in April 2013.
A subsequent poll taken three months later, however, showed a greater willingness on part of the electorate to accept elections under a political government although a clear majority still disapproved.
Constitutional provision for a three-month election-time caretaker government, first introduced in 1996, was removed by the present government in 2011.
Although the BNP has demanded its reintroduction for the forthcoming elections due to take place before 24 January 2014, the prime minister has rejected elections under any government other than the current one.
In the April 2013 poll, 81 per cent of voters, including 62 per cent of the Awami League supporters, said that they were ‘against’ the ‘removal of the caretaker government system,’ with only 15 per cent being in favour of the constitutional change.
When those voters who supported the caretaker system were asked ‘what are the positives of the caretaker government?’ 67 per cent stated that it would ensure ‘neutral and unbiased conduct of elections,’ 42 per cent said that it would lead to the ‘eradication of corruption,’ and 22 per cent that it would ‘care about everyone not just their party.’
When asked what were the negatives of ‘conducting elections under the current government?’ 49 per cent mentioned that it would result in a ‘biased election,’ 38 per cent that it would result in the ‘opposition not participating,’ and 30 per cent that the ‘vote wont be counted fairly.’
Respondents were allowed to provide multiple answers to these questions.
Hostility to the removal of the caretaker system, however, appeared less when voters in the same poll were asked a slightly different question: ‘Do you approve or disapprove of a national parliamentary election taking place under the current government?’ In answer to that question, only 68 per cent disapproved, and 32 per cent approved.
A poll conducted three months later in July 2013 showed that the level of support for political government-held elections had increased further to 41 per cent although a majority, 52 per cent, continued to disapprove.
The poll although continued to show that the strength of feeling against a political government held elections was much greater, with the percentage of those who ‘strongly disapproved’ holding elections under a political government over three times higher than those who ‘strongly approved’ (30 to 9 per cent).
It appears that one reason for the increased comfort with the idea of holding elections under a political government was the victory of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in the four city corporation elections held in June, one month before the poll was undertaken.
Seventy-seven per cent of those asked about whether these elections helped ‘increase voter’s confidence in elections under the current government?’ thought that they had.
The July 2013 poll also asked voters questions about how personally safe they ‘felt to vote’ under a political government (in comparison with elections under a caretaker government) and found that 53 per cent stated they would either feel ‘not safe’ or ‘less safe’ against a total of 47 per cent who said that they would feel either ‘safe’ or ‘safer’ to vote.
And whilst a majority of voters (51 per cent) felt that their vote would ‘not be stolen,’ 49 per cent felt that this would happen, with 17 per cent feeling ‘strongly’ that their vote would not count.
Despite the concerns held by a majority of people concerning the holding of elections under a political government, the July 2013 polls found that at the same time most people (52 per cent) had faith in the capacity of the Election Commission in ‘holding free and fair elections under the current government.’
Only 32 per cent felt that the Election Commission was ‘not capable,’ with 13 per cent stating that they did not know.
In the earlier April 2013 poll, however, the results suggested that the electorate had more confidence in the Election Commission if it was operating under a caretaker government.
In that poll only 28 per cent stated that ‘the Bangladesh Election Commission will do its job neutrally under the current government,’ with 64 per cent agreeing with the same proposition if it was operating under a ‘non-partisan government system.’
The polls which involved face-to-face interviews with between 2,400 to 2,500 randomly selected people throughout Bangladesh, were amongst a series conducted since the beginning of 2012 by the pollster AC Nielsen as part of the Democratic Participation and Reform programme, which is funded by the American and British aid bodies, USAID and UKAID, and implemented by the international non-governmental organisation Democracy International.
5. Majority support war crimes trials but oppose Shahbagh protests
Most voters want the 1971 war crimes trials ‘to proceed’ even though a majority also consider the trials to be ‘unfair’ or ‘very unfair,’ according to an opinion poll conducted in April 2013.
The poll, which was amongst a series of surveys conducted by the pollster AC Nielson also found that nearly twice as many people were against, rather than in favour, of the Shahbagh movement.
When 2510 randomly selected people throughout Bangladesh were asked in April whether they knew about the war crimes trials, 92 percent said that they did with 86 per cent of these voters stating that they personally wanted the trials to proceed, with only 12 per cent against.*
However, when asked about the fairness of the process, 63 per cent (of those that knew about the trials) thought that the trials were unfair or very unfair (with 41 percent stating that they were unfair and 22 per cent stating that the trials were ‘very’ unfair) and only 31 per cent considered that the trials were fair or 'very' fair (with 22 percent stating that they were fair and 9 per cent thinking that they were ‘very’ fair).Those voters who thought that the trials were ‘unfair/very unfair’ included supporters of all the main parties: 84 per cent of the BNP and Jamaat supporters, 80 per cent of Jatiya party voters, and even 32 per cent of Awami Leaguers.
Voters were not asked about the reason for their views on the fairness of the tribunal but the process was subject in November and December 2012 to particular controversy with the publication of Skype conversations and e-mails involving the former chairman of one of the tribunals and allegations about the state abduction of a defence witness.
Voters were also asked about their view on the relationship between the BNP and the war crimes trials.
Fifty-four per cent agreed with the statement that the BNP ‘was not supporting war criminals, they are only demanding fair trials’ whilst 25 per cent agreed with the statement that the BNP ‘secretly support war criminals.’ Twenty-one per cent did not know which statement was correct.
This result would suggest that the attempt by Awami League politicians to taint the BNP through alleging its support for ‘war criminals’ has only been partially successful.
Questions were also asked about the Shahbagh protests which were triggered in February 2013 by the decision of the International Crimes Tribunal to sentence Abdul Quader Mollah, following his conviction for crimes against humanity during the 1971 independence war, to life imprisonment, rather than to a death sentence.
The poll found that 66 per cent of those questioned knew about the Shahbagh protests and out of this number, 69 per cent thought that the ‘reason’ why the protesters were at Shahbagh were to ‘demand justice/capital punishment,’ with only 19 per cent thinking that the object was ‘anti-Islamist.’
However, when those voters who knew about the protests were asked about the extent to which ‘most of your friends and family’ supported or were against the movement, the poll found that only 31 per cent supported/highly supported it (of which 13 per cent ‘highly’ supported it) and that 51 per cent thought that their friends and family were against/highly against it (21 per cent being ‘highly’ against).
The poll found that most Awami League supporters (60 per cent) supported the Shahbagh protests, with most BNP supporters (71 per cent) opposing them.
The poll also sought views on the nature of the protest. When asked, ‘Do you think the movement was a pure movement by the youth or is it a movement created by a certain party?’ the majority of voters, 51 per cent, stated that it was ‘orchestrated,’ with other 25 per cent believing it to be a ‘pure movement.’ Fifteen per cent of voters, however, thought that it started off as a pure movement and was ‘later supported by a political party.’
Most voters in the poll (61 per cent) did not think that the Shahbagh movement would have impact on the next general elections although 24 per cent considered that it would help the Awami League and 7 per cent that it would assist the BNP.
The April 2013 opinion poll is part of the Democratic Participation and Reform programme, which is funded by the US and UK government aid bodies, USAID and UKAID and implemented by the international non-governmental organisation Democracy International.
* Correction: This and the following paragraph have been amended to clarify that the questions about the level of support for proceedings and about the fairness of the trial process, were asked of those respondents who 'knew' about the war crimes trial, which was 92 percent of the total respondents.