Over the last year, I have been part of a group,DAKSH, which is working on developing mechanisms to bring about better accountability in politics. Thanks to Mr. Venkatesan's urging, I am making this post to get some feedback from all of you.
DAKSH believes that one of the means to establish accountability in politics is to evaluate the effectiveness of legislators by measuring the public’s perception of the legislators’ performance in addressing issues that the people consider important.
We decided to test this thought in Karnataka. We carried out two surveys- one in November-December 2007 covering all of the parliamentary constituencies and the second in April 2008 covering all of the legislative assembly constituencies. The survey sought to identify issues that determine people’s choice of legislators, and obtain their opinion on the performance of legislators in relation to such issues. By juxtaposing the two, Daksh believes, a fair assessment of a voter’s perception of the success of his chosen representative can be made.
In this post, I will set out a brief summary of our survey of the assembly constituencies. The survey was conducted across all 224 assembly constituencies in the state, and the opinion of more than 9000 respondents was obtained. A questionnaire containing a host of issues, including provision of health facilities and education, infrastructure, governance employment-generation, etc, was issued to each respondent. In respect of such issues, the respondent was asked two basic questions:
(a) Which, among them, was important to the respondent when choosing a candidate to vote for?
(b) What, in the respondent’s opinion, was the performance of his chosen candidate, in respect of such issues?
Each respondent was asked to rate the issues on a scale of “1” to “5” based on importance, with “1” indicating least importance and “5” indicating the most. The respondent was also asked to indicate the representative’s performance in respect of the chosen issues by grading performance on a similar scale ranging from “1” to “5”, with “5” being the grade for best performance.
Salient features of the results
1. General performance
The results from the survey reflect a stark gap between people’s expectations and their perception of representatives’ performances: the average performance index of all legislators across the state is a mere 1.84 - just about passing grade!
2. Performance on most important issues
The survey results indicate that the most important issues for people, across the state, are:
• Interest-free or Subsidised Loans
• Irrigation Programmes
• Subsidised Food Distribution
• Jobs through rural employment schemes
• Better Educational Facilities
• Better Electricity
• Better Roads
• Eradication of corruption
On the five most important issues, the average performance of the elected representatives is an abysmal 1.8. Contrary to popular propaganda, the five most important issues for people do not vary significantly between respondents in urban and rural areas. Issues that people focus on, come election time, whether in urban or rural Karnataka, are much the same, being one or more of the issues enumerated above.
3. Candidates and political parties
The survey results also show that credibility of candidates makes a great deal of difference to voters. Around 44% of respondents said that the identity of the candidate was “very important” to them and an additional 32% said that it was “important”.
Lamentably, on an average, legislators earned a marking of only 1.8 for their accessibility to people who had voted for them.
As regards the importance of political parties, around 28% of the respondents thought that the political party to which the candidate belongs was “very important”, while 45% of the respondents thought the party was only “important”.
4. Voters’ education
Another interesting result of the survey is that only around 17% of the respondents who voted for winning candidates were graduates. Contrast this to the fact nearly 50% of the respondents who voted for winning candidates are either primary school or high school educated.
5. Concerns across income groups
A further significant finding from the survey is that the issues categorised as critical by more than 70% of the respondents (with a family income of less than Rs. 50,000 per annum) and 15% of the respondents (with a family income between Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 1,00,000 per annum) as well as the remaining respondents remain virtually identical: good governance, infrastructure and livelihood.
There are a lot more details from the survey and we are still analysing the data, but the bottomline is very clear- there is large scale unhappiness with performance of the legislators, irrespective of the party. There is a gap between people's expectations and representatives' performance that needs to be bridged. DAKSH intends to carry out (if we get support, financial and otherwise) such surveys across India on a regular basis with a view to focus the political debate on people's concerns and expectations. Together with the data available from the parliament and the legislatures and details of fund utilisation by elected representatives (MPLAD, etc), such a survey will, we believe, go a long way in bringing about accountability and such accountability will, we hope, result in better governance. A more cynical way of looking is that politics is essentially a competitive arena and if there is a regular ranking of people's perception of representatives, we are likely to see an improvement in their performance.
I am sorry if this post is thin on details of the survey, but I will be happy to share more details with those of you who are interested. I will also post an update when our website is ready.