Oscar Predictions – 2017

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It has been two years since this blog made its debut in the congested alleys of internet opinion, professing to offer its unsolicited point of view on the hot button as well as obscure issues of the day. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. Back then, Donald Trump was just another second grade celebrity businessman, Ed Milliband was looking forward to becoming the next Prime Minister of United Kingdom and no one had heard of the alt-right or Milo Yiannopoulos. Some things have not changed though – this blog, for example, continues to attract visitors at the staggering rate of around 3 per day (which means if you are reading this blog, you are quite the rare one).

The first post on this blog was related to the Oscar predictions of 2015. Since it is this time of the year, we will attempt to once again partake in the annual ritual and solve the quandary that threatens the existence of human civilization, namely – which movie is going to win each of the multiple categories at the Academy Awards on the night of February 26th?

The methodology of the prediction is straight forward and simple. The Oscar season is preceded by a flurry of awards spread over three months. This includes the critics’ awards which are decided by the critics and journalists and the insider awards where the industry insiders (actors, directors, producers, editors, writers, etc.) get to choose their candidates for the most satisfying movie experiences of the year. These awards typically have a strong correlation with the eventual Oscar winner, some (insider awards) more so than the others (critics’ awards). Thus, by looking at the winners and nominees of these awards and weighing them on the basis of their relative success in forecasting the Oscar winner, one can make a reasonable estimate of the winner of each category of the Academy Awards.

Our first attempt at Oscar prediction in 2015 did not go too well and we ended up getting only 13 out of 20 predictions right. The most obvious mistakes that we did was not putting enough weights on the insider awards and being overconfident in categories where we did not have enough data. We were better in our second attempt though, getting 15 out of 17 categories correct.

Regardless of how the individual predictions turn out in each category, I am confident about making the following two:

  • ‘La La Land’ is going to dominate the Oscars night. Armed with 14 nominations, it has an outside chance of equalling the record for most number of Oscar wins by a single movie (which is 11). More realistically, it may end up with around 8-10 wins, which is still a formidable feat, especially considering that it is a musical.
  • Even if the lily white ‘La La Land’ ends up hogging all the limelight on the night of Oscars, there will be a mix of coloured actors who would end up on the podium. In fact, Emma Stone (or Isabelle Huppert or Natalie Portman) may turn out to be the only white actor to win the Oscars, sending out a powerful message of diversity in the year of Donald Trump.
  • No matter who wins, the speeches are going to heavily political. There will be a focus on inclusiveness and on how immigration has made America great. There will also be direct and indirect swipes at the President and his policies. The headlines the day after may end up highlighting the speeches more than the cinematic achievements.

So, without further ado, here are the predictions for the 2017 Academy Awards:

Best Picture:

The ‘Best Picture’ category has been a difficult nut to crack in the last two years. In 2015, this category saw an extremely close contest between ‘The Birdman’ and ‘Boyhood’. 2016 was even more peculiar, with four different movies (‘The Revenant’, ‘Spotlight’, ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’) remaining in contention till the last minute. The victory of ‘Spotlight’ was kind of strange but not entirely unexpected; after all, the insider awards were sharply split among the available choices and ‘Spotlight’ possibly emerged as a broad, consensus pick. The revised voting pattern followed in electing the ‘Best Picture’ nominee which rewards movies which are reasonably popular with large number of voters (like ‘Spotlight’) over movies which are the first choice of a few, but polarising overall (like ‘The Revenant’) possibly helped ‘Spotlight’ as well.

This year though, ‘La La Land’ (a musical, unusually) is very much the clear frontrunner. It has won the Directors Guild Award (DGA), the Producers Guild Award (PGA), Golden Globe – Musical or Comedy, America Cinema Editors – Comedy or Musical, the British Academy of Film & Television Arts (BAFTA) and the Critics’ Choice Awards. It is difficult to see a movie like ‘La La Land’, with such broad and universal acclaim across various categories of industry insiders as well as critics, losing out to any other movie.

But what about the contenders? ‘Moonlight’ at one point of time looked like the strongest threat to ‘La La Land’. It started the awards season well, winning the ‘Golden Globe – Drama’ award, but has since struggled. Its only major victory over ‘La La Land’ has been in the Writers Guild of America (WGA) – Best Original Screenplay, but this award has not had a high historical correlation with the winner in the ‘Best Picture’ category. Perhaps, the biggest blow to the chances of ‘Monlight’ came in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award for ‘Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture’. In the SAG awards (which had awarded ‘Spotlight’ last year), ‘Moonlight’ lost out to ‘Hidden Figures’ even though ‘La La Land’ was not nominated and not in contention, indicating that ‘Moonlight’ may not even be the second choice of a number of industry insiders.

Best Director:

The movie that won the ‘Best Picture’ category has gone on win the ‘Best Director’ category 70% of the time in the last twenty years and this year is expected to be no different. Damien Chazelle (‘La La Land’) has won the all important ‘Directors Guild of America’ (DGA) award, along with the ‘Golden Globe’, ‘BAFTA’ and ‘Critics Choice’. The DGA winner has gone on to win the ‘Best Director’ award in Oscar 86% of the time in the last fifty years.

Barry Jenkins, the director of ‘Moonlight’, has won a number of critics’ awards (including the ‘National Board of Review’ Award and those awarded by critics’ associations of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles) but none of these awards has a very strong correlation with the eventual Oscar winner in this category.

Best Actor:

This is possibly the most intriguing category among the top six in this year’s Oscars. Casey Affleck, by virtue of his performance in ‘Manchester by the Sea’ and thanks to some generous publicity by its distributor (‘Amazon Studios’) emerged as an early frontrunner in the race, sweeping most of the critics’ choice awards as well as the Golden Globe – Best Actor (Drama). But Denzel Washington (‘Fences’) came out of nowhere to win the ‘Screen Actors Guild’ (SAG) Awards, the only award in this category where industry insiders get to vote. Affleck subsequently redeemed himself to an extent by winning the BAFTA where Washington was not nominated.

Because of his dominating performance almost through the awards season, Casey Affleck is a favourite to win this category as per our model. However, I am not so confident. SAG winners have gone on to win the ‘Best Actor’ category at Oscars around 82% of the time in the last fifty years. In fact, the last time an SAG winner failed to win at the Oscars was way back in 2003. Given this, I think Casey Affleck is still the modest favourite, but Denzel Washington retains a very, very good chance of winning in this category.

Best Actress:

This is another interesting category where our model shows a deceptively close race – quite the mirror image of the ‘Best Actor’ category. This is a three way race – among Emma Stone (‘La La Land’), Natalie Portman (‘Jackie’) and Isabelle Huppert (‘Elle’). Stone is likely to win this category – she has won at the SAG, BAFTA and Golden Globe – Best Actress (Musical or Comedy). Huppert’s strength in the model stems from the fact that she won a few critics’ choice awards and also won at the Golden Globe – Best Actress (Drama). Now, Golden Globe – Best Actress (Drama) has historically done a decent job of predicting the Oscar winner in this category; but of course, this year Emma Stone, the frontrunner, was not even competing in this category.

Best Supporting Actor:

This is another category which is relatively open at this year’s Oscars. Mahershala Ali, for his portrayal of a conflicted drug dealer in ‘Moonlight’, has won the SAG, Critics’ Choice and Chicago Films Critics Association Award. But at least three other nominees have won some or the other award and hence, cannot be counted out. Dev Patel especially, with his surprise win at the BAFTA, has emerged as the dark horse in this category.

Best Supporting Actress:

Viola Davis (‘Fences’) has dominated this category, winning in the awards that matter (Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG and Critics’ Choice) and is heavily favoured to win this category. Although our model shows Michelle Williams (‘Manchester by the Sea’) as a distant second, I think Naomi Harris (‘Moonlight’) poses the strongest challenge to Davis.

Best Screenplay – Original:

This is a straight fight between ‘Manchester by the Sea’ and ‘La La Land.’, almost too close to call. The former won the BAFTA while the latter won the Golden Globe. The highly predictive Critics’ Choice Awards in this category found it impossible to distinguish between the two and awarded both. ‘Manchester by the Sea’ is leading in our model on account of the higher weightage of BAFTA compared to Golden Globe, but frankly, both the movies have an almost equal chance of winning.

Best Screenplay – Adapted:

This category has been completely messed up by the fact that ‘Moonlight’ has been classified as an original screenplay by the Writers’ Guild of America and an adapted screenplay by the Academy Awards. Now, ‘Moonlight’ has won the ‘Best Original Screenplay’ at the WGA awards, and ‘Arrival’ has won the ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ at the same awards. But both the films have been nominated under the ‘Best Adapted Screenplay’ category at the Academy Awards. To add to the uncertainty, in BAFTA, this category was won by ‘Lion’. Given this lack of data, the model is unable to decide between the two. Hence, I am not making any prediction in this category.

Best Editing:

Usually, the winner of the America Cinema Editors Award (Eddie) – Dramatic goes on to win in this category. But, the emergence of ‘La La Land’, a musical, as a strong favourite has upended this calculation. ‘La La Land’ has won Eddie award in the ‘Comedy or Musical’ category. It has also won in the highly predictive ‘Critics Choice’ and ‘Chicago Films Critics’ Association’ awards. Hence, it will remain the favourite over ‘Arrival’ (the winner of the Eddie in the ‘Dramatic’ category) and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ (the winner at BAFTA and ‘Satellite Awards’).

Best Cinematography:

This is another category where ‘La La Land’ is the clear frontrunner and ‘Moonlight’ is the closest threat, but a pretty distant one. ‘La La Land’ has won at BAFTA and more importantly (for this category), at the Critics’ Choice Awards.

Best Animation Movie:

Zootopia’ has dominated this category in this awards season, but the BAFTA had a surprise at the last moment, when it chose to award ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’. Given that ‘Zootopia’ has won most of the insider awards in this category, it is still favoured to win; but BAFTA has a very good track record when it becomes to predicting the eventual Oscar winner in this category. Hence, ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ cannot be counted out as yet.

Best Documentary:

This is another category where the narrative of the race has been disturbed at the dying stages by a surprise result at the BAFTA. ‘O.J.: Made in America’ has swept this category at most of the awards this season and remains a clear favourite; but the victory of ‘13th’ at the BAFTA means the race is not a foregone conclusion. ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ remains a dark horse in this category.

Best Foreign Language Film:

‘Elle’ would have been a strong contender in this category, given its performance in the other awards (winner at ‘Golden Globe’ and ‘Critics’ Choice Movie Awards’) but it was not nominated at the Oscars. Given this, the race shall be a close one between ‘The Salesman’, the Iranian-French movie (winner at ‘Satellite Award’ and ‘National Board of Review’) and ‘Toni Erdmann’, the German movie (winner at ‘New York Film Critics Circle Awards’). The one big factor that has not been captured by the model is that Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of ‘The Salesman’, was recently disallowed from travelling to US by the executive action of President Trump that barred travellers from seven Muslim countries (the action has since been overturned by the court). In protest, Mr. Farhadi decided to skip the awards. Since Hollywood is dominated by liberals and given the anti-Trump mood at the various awards this year, this executive action might have ironically just tipped the scale in favour of ‘The Salesman’.

Best Costume Design:

Jackie’ has won at all the three major awards which has this category and should win at the Academy Awards as well.

Best Visual Display:

There are again only three major awards that have this category, but ‘The Jungle Book’ has scooped up all three of them. It is likely to win the Academy Awards as well.

Best Production Design:

Another category, another expected victory for ‘La La Land’. The strongest competition in this section shall come from ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ which won at the BAFTA. But again, BAFTA is a British Academy and it tends to favour movies produced in the United Kingdom. In fact, ‘The Handmaiden’, a Korean movie had shown some promise in this category in the critics’ awards, but has not been nominated at the Academy Awards.

Best Original Score:

I am getting a little tired of repeating this, but ‘La La Land’ is again a clear favourite here. Considering that La La Land is that rare musical that has managed to be a strong contender at so many categories this season, it will be a surprise if it does not manage to win this one, supposedly the category which should be its strong suit. In fact, ‘Jackie’ is the only other movie to have won any award in this category (Chicago Films Critics Association Award) this year.

Best Original Song:

Of course, as expected, ‘La La Land’ is a favourite in this category. Not only that, it also has two separate nominations (‘City of Stars’ and ‘Audition’). ‘City of Stars’ has won all the awards available in this category and should win at the Oscars as well.

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A Comprehensive Primer on the Goa Assembly Election

Goa, the topical coastal paradise located in the Konkan Coast of India, overlooking the Arabian Sea, is scheduled to vote on the 04th February, 2016. Voters of 40 assembly constituencies are going to exercise their right to franchise and elect the representatives of their respective constituencies as well as the Government that shall administer the state for the next five years.

Although Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC) are the two main parties at the hustings, there is a preponderance of regional parties with restricted bases in a few seats. The most prominent of them is the Maharashtravadi Gomantak Party (MGP). Originally floated as a party that represented the interests of the lower caste Hindu voters, the party ruled the state for much of its initial years of statehood till 1979. Subsequently, it started losing party cadres and vote share, primarily to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which had a similar ideology and appeal to the Hindu voters. Currently, MGP’s appeal is restricted to a few disparate constituencies in Goa.

In the 2012 Assembly elections, BJP and MGP had formed an alliance that came to power, winning 24 of the 40 seats in the House, out of which BJP won 21 seats and MGP won 3. The alliance fell apart last year though, after two of the MGP ministers were dropped from the cabinet subsequent to emergence of allegations of faking their degrees. The BJP itself has split recently on the issue of continued Government support to English medium schools, as the more conservative faction of BJP and RSS, led by Subhash Velingkar, the original founder of RSS in the state, has left the party to form Goa Suraksha Manch (GSM). MGP, GSM and Shiv Sena have now joined together to form an alliance, placing themselves as a conservative alternative to the BJP.

This could have served as good news to the Indian National Congress, the principle opposition party. But chronically riddled with factionalism and hobbled by allegations of corruptions, it is not in an ideal position to take advantage of the troubles of BJP. This was evident in the way it messed up seat sharing negotiations with potential allies, ultimately being forced to go alone in the polls, with informal understanding with other candidates in three seats. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), its alliance partner in the last two Assembly elections, was left in the cold. Its negotiations with Goa Forward Party (GFP) also came undone at the last moment. So, now NCP and GFP which have pockets of influence in 2-3 seats each shall contest independently in those seats, as well as a number of other seats where they have the potential to glean a few hundred crucial votes from the Congress.

As many as four former Chief Ministers have been fielded by the Congress in the Assembly elections. Many of them do not see eye to eye with each other. For example, there are reports that Digambar Kamat, the Chief Minister of Goa in the period between 2002 and 2007, is trying to undercut the campaign of Luizinho Faleiro, another former Chief Minister who is trying to make a comeback in a neighbouring constituency.

Then there is Aam Aadmi Party who is making a desperate push for the state, keen to show itself a growing national party, with influence outside the North Indian belt of Delhi and Punjab. It has fielded candidates in 39 Assembly constituencies, but it is difficult to see it being competitive beyond half a dozen seats, mainly in South Goa. There are other smaller outfits like United Goans Party (a defunct party that has now been resuscitated to contest in a couple of seats), Goa Vikas Party (a party which has allegedly put up candidates to undercut Congress support in select constituencies) and Goa Su-Raj Party, not to mention a smattering of independent candidates in almost every seat.

Needless to say, such a bewildering array of parties contesting in small constituencies with limited number of voters makes for a very unpredictable election. In some segments, with voter size of between 25000-30000 electors, 10-12 candidates are in fray. To add to the confusion, party loyalty is extremely transient in Goa. Politicians switch parties everywhere, but in Goa the frequency is rather alarming. In Bicholim, for example, the Congress and BJP candidates have swapped their candidate while the independent MLA has become part of MGP. In Cuncolim, as many as four candidates who were part of the Congress around six months back are now contesting in the election separately. Many candidates routinely file their nominations from multiple parties, so that if the bigger party is unwilling to give them tickets, they contest on the tickets of smaller parties. Atanasio Monseratte, an erstwhile Congress MLA, was expelled from the party after he was found to be tacitly canvassing for the BJP candidate in the Panjim by-poll in 2014. He is now contesting in Panjim against the same BJP candidate and Congress has agreed to support the candidate by not fielding a candidate of their own. Jennifer Monseratte, his wife, meanwhile continues to contest on a Congress ticket from the neighbouring constituency of Taleigaon.

Even in the midst of this unpredictability and confusion, there are a few things that are apparent. One is the rise of BJP to become the numero uno party in the state. A party which even two decades back was a junior coalition partner of MGP is now governing the state on its own. Not only that, its vote share has increased steadily over the last few years. And its success in Goa has not come at the cost of alienation of religious minorities, as has been the case in a number of states in the Hindi heartland. In 2012, the party fielded six Catholic candidates, all of whom managed to win in their respective seats. Francis D’Souza, the Deputy CM of Goa, is a Catholic.

BJP has also managed to poach two sitting MLAs of Congress in the state, strengthening them in two assembly segments where they were on much weaker footing before.

The rising vote share of BJP in Goa was reflected in the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha election. If all the assembly segments in 2017 vote the same way they did in 2014, BJP would end up sweeping 33 out of the 40 seats, while Congress will only be left with 7 seats. Of course, this is not to state all the assembly segments will vote like they did in 2014. There was the Modi wave in 2014, which may have ebbed now. Further, in this election, local issues, local candidates and local parties shall matter far more.

Administrative_map_of_Goa.png

In the Taluka wise map of Goa shown in the figure above, Bardez and Salcette are the most important ones, contributing the maximum number of assembly segments. In North Goa, BJP is extremely strong in Bardez while Congress has become vastly weakened there. Even in seats like Mapusa, Aldona and Calangute which are dominated by Catholic voters, Congress has ceded political space to BJP. BJP is also strong in Pernem (where it is expected to be tested by the MGP-GSM-Shiv Sena alliance) and Bicholim talukas. Congress is strong in Sattari taluka (thanks to the presence of Pratap Singh Rane) and Tiswadi (thanks to Atanasio Monseratte). The Ponda taluka serves as the core base of MGP with all three of its sitting MLAs coming from that region.

In South Goa, BJP has barely a presence in Salcette which has the maximum number of assembly constituencies and is heavily populated by Catholics. Digambar Kamat and Luizino Faleiro, two Congress heavyweights are contesting in this region. But while BJP is weak in this region, it does not mean Congress will sweep the area. It faces stiff competition from AAP, Goa Forward Party, Goa Vikas Party and in some cases, independents backed by BJP. In the Mormugao taluka, both BJP and Congress are equally matched while in the remaining less populated talukas, BJP is much stronger.

As mentioned above, because of multi-party contests, small size of the constituencies and frequent change in party labels, prediction of seat wise winners based on numbers in previous elections may prove to be foolhardy. Instead, based on the news reports appearing in the local media, here is a brief run down of the main contenders in each assembly segments and the candidates favoured to win there.

  • Mandrem (Previously – BJP, Currently – Lean BJP)

This seat is the constituency of Laxmikant Parsekar, the current Chief Minister of the state. The contest appears to be a straight fight between him and the MGP candidate. The shadow of Dayand Bandodkar, the first Chief Minister of Goa from MGP, looms large over this seat. BJP’s vote share increased to around 67% in the seat in 2014 Lok Sabha election and it appears to be a safe seat for the party. MGP and GSM have, however, campaigned strong in this constituency and both the parties have a vested interest in seeing the back of Parsekar. Congress has consistently managed to get around 30-35% share in the seat.

  • Pernem (Previously – BJP, Currently – Tossup)

Similar to Mandrem, this is also a constituency which used to be a stronghold of MGP, but where BJP has been on the ascendancy in the recent few years. Around 70% of the voters of this constituency voted for the BJP candidate in the 2014 election. Expected to be a three cornered fight with advantage for the BJP candidate. Rajendra Arlekar, the current candidate, is a sitting minister (Forest, Environment and Panchayat) and former speaker. Former Panchayat minister Manohar Azgaonkar is contesting on the MGP ticket. The fact that BJP was actively considering dropping Arlekar from the constituency does not portend well for the candidate. This may see a close election.

  • Bicholim (Previously – Independent, Currently – Lean MGP)

This is a direct contest between the BJP and the MGP candidate. Naresh Sawal, the MGP candidate is the current MLA. He was elected last time as an independent. The BJP candidate had fought from the assembly constituency on Congress ticket last time where as the Congress candidate had contested on a BJP ticket.

  • Tivim (Previously – BJP, Currently – Tossup)

This seat will have a straight contest between Congress and BJP. Mr. Nilkant Halarnkar, the former tourism minister and state NCP president will now contest the seat on a Congress ticket. The nomination of the Shiv Sena candidate has been rejected from this seat. Although the segment is currently with BJP, it has seen close contests in the last two elections .

  • Mapusa (Previously – BJP, Currently – Lean BJP)

Francis D’Souza, the current Deputy Chief Minister, is a four time MLA from this segment. BJP had won 65% of the votes from this segment in 2014 general election and 74% of the votes in the 2012 Assembly election. It will take a huge miracle to unseat him.

  • Siolim (Previously – BJP, Currently – Tossup)

Mr. Dayanand Mandrekar is a three term sitting MLA and a minster of civil supplies, water resources, archives and archaeology, art and culture. The main opposition will be in the form of the Goa Forward Party candidate who has tacit backing of the Congress which is not contesting from this seat.

  • Saligao (Previously – BJP, Currently – Lean BJP)

This seat is another strong BJP bastion. The seat is represented by Mr. Dilip Parulekar, the current minister of women and child development, ports, tourism and protocol. He is involved in multiple scams. Both Goa Forward Party and Congress have fielded candidates here and this may lead to division of votes. Agnelo Fernandes, the Congress candidate, is a former two term MLA with neighbouring Calangute.

  • Calangute (Previously – BJP, Currently – Tossup)

Calangute has long been known to be a Congress bastion, but voted in favour of BJP in 2012. Surprisingly, the Congress candidate narrowly won the seat in the 2014 general election even when BJP had actually improved on its performance. It is expected to be a straight fight between Michael Lobo, the sitting MLA and Joseph Sequiera, the Congress candidate. The seat has a sizeable minority population and will see a close fight. The support of Agnelo Fernandez, former MLA and current candidate of Saligao, will be crucial.

  • Porvorim (Previously – Independent, Currently – Toss Up)

Current independent MLA Rohan Khaunte is being supported by Congress which has not fielded any candidate in this constituency. However, the seat saw a close fight in 2012 and a decisive victory for BJP in the 2014 general election. It is expected to again be a close fight.

  • Aldona (Previously – BJP, Currently – Lean BJP)

An erstwhile Congress bastion, the seat had seen decisive victory for BJP in both the 2012 Assembly election and 2014 Lok Sabha election. Glenn Ticlo, the sitting of MLA of BJP is favoured to win in a fight with the Congress candidate Amarnath Panajikar while the AAP and MGP candidates may register some votes. This seat also has a predominantly Catholic population and may see a close contest.

  • Panaji (Previously – BJP, Currently – Toss Up)

The former seat of Manohar Parrikar, this constituency is currently represented by Siddharth Kuncolienkar of BJP. This seat has voted reliably for BJP dating back at least till 1999. The main opposition contender will be Atanasio Monseratte, the candidate of United Goans Party who is being supported by Congress and has a strong base in the region. Monseratte has been an MLA of neighbouring Taleigao for multiple terms. GSM and AAP candidates are also in the fray. The AAP, BJP and GSM candidates are all from the same community which may result in a division of votes.

  • Taleigao (Previously – Congress, Currently – Toss Up)

This seat is contested by Jennifer Monserratte , the sitting MLA and wife of the Atanasio Monseratte, the former MLA from this segment. This seat has been a Congress/UGDP/Monseratte stronghold over the years; however, BJP has been able to gradually increase its vote share in this seat in the recent years. This is expected to be a close fight.

  • Cruz (Previously – Congress, Currently – Lean Congress)

A Congress stronghold, the sitting MLA Atanasio Monseratte has been expelled from the party and is contesting in this election from the Panaji seat on a United Goans Party ticket. Congress has instead nominated former sarpanch Antonio Fernandez. The seat was last time contested by MGP. This time both MGP and BJP have declared candidates for this seat.

  • Andre (Previously – BJP, Currently – Lean Congress)

Previously a Congress bastion, the seat was won narrowly by BJP in 2012. In 2014 general election, BJP continued to maintain its narrow margin over the Congress candidate in this segment. Francisco Silveira, a former three term MLA, will contest the seat on Congress ticket whereas Ramrao Wagh, brother of the current ailing MLA will contest on BJP ticket. Apart from them, there are eight other candidates in fray. This seat may swing back to Congress.

  • Cumbarjua (Previously – Congress, Currently – Lean BJP)

Three time MLA Pandurang Madkaikar is favoured to win here. He is currently contesting on BJP ticket, having changed his party affiliation from Congress. Prior to that, he was with MGP.

  • Maem (Previously – BJP, Currently – Lean BJP)

This has become a safe seat for BJP in the recent years. However, current MLA and present speaker of the House Anant Shet has been dropped from the ticket this time. Instead the son of a former Congress MLA has been given the BJP ticket. It remains to be seen how much of an impact this will have on the poll results. Shet has, however, not filed his candidacy as an independent from this segment.

  • Sanquelim (Previously – BJP, Currently – Lean BJP)

This assembly segment is another BJP stronghold and it was won comfortably by the party in both 2012 Assembly election as well as 2014 general election. This is a mining belt and has been affected badly by the ban on mining. Dharmesh Saglani, the Congress candidate, does not have the full backing of the party. GSM and AAP candidates are also in the fray. Suresh Amonkar, the GSM candidate, is a former health minister.

  • Poriem (Previously – Congress, Currently – Lean Congress)

This remote segment, located in the North East of the state, is the pocket borough of Pratap Singh Rane, former Chief Minister and current Leader of Opposition. He is up against Vishwajit K Rane, his own relative and the BJP candidate. This seat has traditionally remained a Congress constituency although the margin of Rane has come down in 2012 and BJP had a lead from this segment in the 2014 Lok Sabha general election.

  • Valpoi (Previously – Congress, Currently – Lean Congress)

This segment is represented by Vishwajit Rane, son of Pratapsingh Rane. Vishwajit Rane has won from this seat in the last two elections, held in 2007 and 2012, although BJP had a narrow lead from this segment in 2014 Lok Sabha election.

  • Priol (Previously – MGP, Currently – Toss Up)

This seat is represented by Deepak Dhavalikar, the President of MGP. BJP is supporting independent Govind Gaude in this segment,

Gaude came close to defeating Dhavalikar in 2012. This will be a close contest between the two, even though AAP and Congress have also nominated their candidates from the seat.

  • Ponda (Previously – MGP, Currently – Lean Congress)

Congress won the seat thrice between 1999 and 2007. However in 2012, the seat was won by MGP, the alliance partner of BJP in the state. The interesting thing about this constituency is that BJP and MGP have together polled solidly here, but only when they fought the election in an alliance were they able to defeat Congress. Ravi Naik, a former CM, has won from this seat thrice and he will seek to utilize the division of votes between BJP and MGP to wrest back the seat. The sitting MLA is contesting on the MGP ticket.

  • Siroda (Previously – BJP, Currently – Toss Up)

Siroda will see a straight fight between Mahadev Naik, the BJP MLA and current Industries and Social Welfare Minister, and Subhash Shirodkar, five time MLA. Shirodkar represented the seat between 1984 and 2007, before Naik defeated him by a whisker in 2007. In 2012, Naik was able to increase the margin of victory, but he is facing anti-incumbency this time. This will be a close fight.

  • Marcaim (Previously – MGP, Currently – Lean MGP)

Sudin Dhavalikar, the chief ministerial candidate of MGP-GSM-Shiv Sena alliance has won from the seat four successive times and he is expected to win the seat this time as well.

  • Mormugao (Previously – BJP, Currently – Toss Up)

This seat has had close contests between Congress and BJP in the past with a smattering of votes going to MGP. Previously a Congress stronghold, the seat has been represented by Milind Naik, the state Power Minister in the last two sessions. The margin of victory for Naik was only around 6% in 2012 and the seat may see a close fight in this election, with MGP fighting separately. A number of BJP workers have also rebelled against the sitting MLA and decided to support the Congress candidate.

  • Vasco da Gama (Previously – BJP, Currently – Lean BJP)

Vasco da Gama has alternated between NCP and BJP in the last few elections. Carlos Almeida had won the seat handily in 2012 and he will contest again in 2017. Joseph Philip D’ Souza, the NCP state chief and two time former MLA who had lost in 2012 is again contesting on the NCP ticket. However, unlike last time, he would not have the support of Congress which has fielded its own candidate. Incidentally, the South Goa Vice President of BJP, Mr. Krishna Salkar, is also contesting the seat as an independent, after leaving BJP. As a result, both Almeida and D’Souza will see erosion in their respective vote shares. However, considering the strong margin by which Almeida had won the seat in 2012 and the fractured nature of the field, he may win again in this seat.

  • Dabolim (Previously – Congress, Currently – Lean BJP)

Congress narrowly won this seat in 2012, but it broke decisively in favour of BJP in the 2014 general election. Five time MLA Mauvin Godinho has recently quit the Congress to join BJP and will fight in the election on BJP ticket. The Congress has instead fielded Francisco Jose. BJP is likely to wrest this seat back.

  • Cortalim (Previously – BJP, Currently – Toss Up)

The seat is currently represented by Alina Saldanha, the only woman minister in the cabinet, in charge of Environment, Rural Development, Science & Technology. Alina Saldanha became the MLA after the untimely death of Matanhy Saldanha who was elected in the 2012 Assembly election, Now Olencio Simoes, Matanhy’s sister’s son, is also contesting the seat on an AAP ticket. The seat has historically seen smaller parties like UGDP and GVP perform well. This year, United Goans Party, Goa Su-raj Party, Goa Vikas Party and MGP have put up candidates in the seat apart from BJP, AAP and Congress. Independent candidate Vas has also strong pockets of support. BJP never won this segment before 2012 and its lead fell to a few hundred votes in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Overall, this seat looks wide open.

  • Nuvem (Previously – GVP, Currently – Toss Up)

Fracisco Pacheco, the sitting Goa Vikas Party MLA, has recently switched over to the Goa Su-Raj Party and is the main contender for the seat along with Wilfred D’Sa, the Congress candidate. Alexo Sequeira, former Congress strong man from this segment, has been denied tickets and may be tacitly supporting Pacheco. The AAP and NCP candidates are also in the fray. This appears to be close contest.

  • Cartolim (Previously – Congress, Currently – Lean Congress)

This is a straight fight between Congress and AAP. A traditional Congress bastion populated by mostly Catholic voters, BJP has little if any presence in this segment. Arthur D’Silva, the BJP candidate, is considered an outsider in this area. Sitting MLA Lourenco’s main contender is Edwin Vaz, the AAP candidate.

  • Fatorda (Previously – Independent, Currently – Lean GFP)

The seat has alternated between Congress and BJP several times before it was won by Vijai Sardesai, an independent in 2012. Vijai Sardesai has since formed a new part called Goa Forward Party. Although the talks of an alliance between Congress and GFP have not materialized, no Congress candidate has been put up in this segment. Instead Joseph Silva, a local Congress leader, will contest the seat on GVP ticket. The main fight in this constituency shall be between Sardesai and Damodar Naik, the BJP candidate. Sardesai is favoured to win here.

  • Margao (Previously – Congress, Currently – Lean Congress)

Digambar Kamat, former Chief Minister, has represented this segment since 1994. However, the BJP candidate eked out a lead in this constituency in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and there may be a tough fight in 2017. Kamat is still favoured to win. The main contender is Sharmad Raiturkar of BJP.

  • Benaulim (Previously – GVP, Currently – Toss Up)

This is an open seat with multiple candidates in fray. Sitting MLA Caetano Silva is contesting the seat as an independent and has tacit support of BJP and part of the Congress workers in this seat. Another Congress leader Maria Rebelo is fighting on the GVP ticket. GVP was incidentally the winner last time. Veteran politician Churchill Alemao, the owner of Churchill Brothers, is contesting the seat on NCP ticket while the Congress candidate Edwino Barreto is a relative lightweight. Add to that the AAP and GSRP candidates. But the main contest is expected to be four cornered in nature among Silva, Alemao, Rebelo and Barreto.

  • Navelim (Previously – Independent, Currently – Lean Congress)

The seat was won last time by Independent candidate Avertano Furtado who had defeated Congress stalwart Churchill Alemao. This time, the Labour and Fisheries Minister will be up against Luizinho Faleiro, former CM and another veteran Congress politician. Faleiro is favoured to win the vote. However, Edwin Cardozo, an independent backed by Goa Forward Party, may take away some of the votes of Faleiro. On the other hand, BJP is gong to support Furtado instead of putting up a candidate of its own. As a result, Satya Vijay Naik, a MGP candidate who has the backing of some of the anti-Furtado forces in BJP, may carry a chunk of the Hindutva votes.

  • Cuncolim ((Previously – BJP, Currently – Toss Up)

This is another open seat where a number of viable candidates are competing. While Rajan Naik is the sitting BJP MLA, he is facing severe anti-incumbency factor and the presence of a Shiv Sena candidate. The Congress Party has been weakened by multiple defections and apart from Clefacio Dias, the official nominee, Joaquim Alemao, an independent, John Monteiro, the GVP candidate, and Devendra Dessai, the Shiv Sena candidate, are also former Congressmen. Another strong contender is Elvis Gomes, the chief ministerial candidate of AAP.

  • Velim (Previously – Independent, Currently – Toss Up)

Around 12 candidates are competing in this seat and no body is a particular favourite. Benjamin Silva, an Independent, is the sitting MLA and his main competitor is Felipe Neri Rodriguez, the Congress candidate, who he had defeated last time. AAP Candidate Cruz Silva and GFP’s Anthony Rodriguez are also strong contenders.

  • Quepem (Previously – Congress, Currently – Toss Up)

Chandrakant Kavlekar, the current MLA of Congress, won the seat in 2012 thanks to split of the BJP vote among various candidates. However BJP has this time managed to present a united force behind Prakash Velip, the candidate. As a result, there may be a close fight for the seat with slight edge to Velip. The AAP candidate may also take away some votes from Congress.

  • Curchorem (Previously – BJP, Currently – Lean BJP)

This is a straight fight between Nilesh Cabral, the sitting MLA of BJP and Shyam Satardekar, the GSM candidate. Satardekar, contesting on a Congress ticket, had incidentally lost the seat to Cabral in 2012. Cabral is favoured to win the seat.

  • Sanvordem (Previously – BJP, Currently – Toss Up)

Similar to Curchorem, this is also a straight fight between Ganesh Gaonkar, the sitting BJP MLA and Deepak Pauskar, the candidate of MGP. Gaonkar is facing significant anti-incumbency headwinds.

  • Sanguem (Previously – BJP, Currently – Lean BJP)

This is a BJP stronghold where the party has won five consecutive times. Subhash Phal Dessai, the sitting MLA, is favoured to win here, although he faces stiff competition from Ravindra Velip of AAP, Vassu Gaonkar of MGP and Savitri Kavlekar of Congress.

  • Canacona (Previously – BJP, Currently – Lean BJP)

Canacona is another BJP stronghold where it has won three consecutive elections. However, this time, it has decided to drop Ramesh Tawadkar, the sitting party MLA and minister, in favour of Vijai Pai Khot. Tawadkar has resigned from the party and is contesting the election as an independent. The fight is expected to be between Tawadkar and Khot.

Based on the seat by seat analysis, the following emerges as the range of seats each of the political parties is expected to garner:

Name of the Party Range of Seats Expected
Bharatiya Janata Party 12-25
Indian National Congress 8-17
MGP-GSM-Shiv Sena Alliance 2-5
Goa Forward Party 1-2
United Goans Party 0-1
Aam Aadmi Party 0-4
Others 0-7

Thus while BJP may be expected to emerge as the single largest party, Congress may spring a surprise and finish ahead of it. Even if it does not, it may finish well within striking distance of BJP. The best scenario for BJP will be to obtain majority on its own, while the best scenario for Congress will be to emerge as the single largest party and form a Government with the support of parties like United Goans Party, Goa Forward Party, Goa Vikas Party, Goa Su-Raj Party, independents, etc. AAP, on the other hand, does not appear to be the strong favourite in any particular segment and may at best, hope to win 2-3 seats.

A point to note here is that candidates belonging to the same political party often simultaneously under perform or over perform in a number of seats. That is, the parties may perform close to the minimum or maximum limits shown in the table above, and may even breach the limits. In a multi-party first past the post system being followed in Goa, the swing of a few percentage points may change the winning party in a number of seats. In other words, the above limits should not be taken as hard and fast projections; however, the indications are clear – BJP is ahead in the current horserace, but it may fall short of majority while Congress is behind BJP and it may need the support of other parties to form a Government in case BJP falls short.

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Half Lion’ – The Convoluted Legacy of PV Narasimha Rao

half-lion

Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao, the ninth Prime Minister of India, was a man of immense contradictions. Although a lifelong socialist and a Nehruvian, he will perhaps be best remembered for dismantling the license raj system and leading the Indian economy to a new era of liberalization, privatization and globalization. Always an obeisant supporter of the Nehru-Gandhi family during the Indira-Rajiv era, after the death of Rajiv Gandhi, he worked discreetly, albeit unsuccessfully, to decouple the fortunes of the Congress Party from those of its first family. He was a man who could bring in far reaching reforms at lightning speed and at the same time, dither and sit over crucial decisions, often to the immense frustration of his supporters. As a chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, he could not last beyond two years because of his rash implementation of drastic land reforms; as a Prime Minister, he navigated patiently through treacherous party men, an economic crisis, lack of simple majority in the House, the demolition of Babri Masjid and multiple no confidence motions to run a minority Government for its entire term.

Vinay Sitapati’s ‘Half Lion: How PV Narasimha Rao Transformed India’ is an authoritative account of the often tumultuous and undoubtedly far reaching regime of PV Narasimha Rao. Written in lucid style, it is an exhaustively researched biography, aided no doubt by the author’s ability to get access to the opinions of some of the most powerful men and women of that period, as well as the private handwritten notes of Rao which he had assiduously maintained over his long public career. A journalist and a PhD scholar by profession, Sitapati spares no effort in examining in painstaking detail the many significant events that marked Rao’s tenure as the Prime Minister.

By most accounts, Narasimha Rao was an intriguing character. A linguist, author and scholar, he was fluent in ten languages, including in seven Indic languages and three foreign ones. Although a lawyer by profession, he had keen interest in foreign affairs, education, health and other public policies. A life-long learner, he became familiar with three Computer languages after turning sixty and regularly used a laptop at a day and age when most youngsters were not familiar with any computer system. He was also curiously close to a number of Hindu holy men, and just before the 1991 elections, considered giving up politics for a life in religion.

Rao was a man who spoke little, if at all, but when he did, he spoke with authority and often a sharp sense of humour. He read volumes of academic journals and prepared religiously before important meetings. His decisions, with a few exceptions, were often carefully studied and well thought out. But when he was convinced of the merits and politics of a decision, he could act with decisive speed.

Many of the contradictions of Rao’s life and character can be explained by the fact that he was not an idealist but a pragmatic, a believer in ends over means. Although he was elected as a public representative for four decades, he did so without cultivating any substantial base among any caste, community, region or religion. In fact, he was elected to the Lok Sabha from three different states – Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha; the fact that he could speak fluently the local languages of all the three states also helped. As a floating MP without any natural base to represent, he was also not beholden to the interests of that base. This gave him enormous political dexterity and allowed him to be ruthlessly pragmatic.

Unlike Nehru, Indira or Rajiv, all of whom were brought up inside cocoons of privilege and had to strain to understand the misery of their less fortunate countrymen, Rao was brought up in a remote village of pre-independent Nizam’s Hyderabad, spent his teens in a boarding school and was married off at the age of ten. He was well aware of the reality of an everyday Indian; it was a part of who he was. At the same time, he was also a brilliant student, among the best ones of his province in his time. He spent his student days devouring Marxist literature. He was often lonely and brooding. As a minister first in Hyderabad and then in Delhi, he maintained tenuous links to his wife and children. He forsook his personal family life and instead immersed himself in public life. As a result, he suffered from a major identity crisis – he was at the same time too earthy to be comfortable among the elites of Lutyen’s Delhi and too sophisticated to find peace in the idyllic life of his village. This explains why, in spite of being a minister in Delhi for more than two decades, he had few friends there and could never become the consummate insider. This also explains why he wore his political career lightly and was never too attached to the same, willing to give it up for a life of retirement and scholarly pursuits.

Rao is often compared to Chanakya, the legendary Indian master in statecraft, the Machiavelli of India. However, in many ways, he is very similar to Richard Nixon, the former Republican President and Vice President of USA. Both were brilliant and flawed characters, introverted and cunning, the rare politicians who valued results over ideology. Both were elected after making improbable comebacks from the threat of obscurity, to helm their nations in particularly fraught times in their respective histories.  Once in office, they were quick to seize the crisis to take crucial steps whose reverberations are still felt today – Rao by liberalizing the economy and Nixon by normalizing ties with China. Both ended their rules in ignominy, although there is no doubt that Nixon’s was much more scandalizing. Where they probably differed was that Nixon arguably had no moral compass at all; Rao’s moral compass, on the other hand, was occasionally malfunctioning, but most of the times, it pointed in the right direction.

Rao’s political achievements were significant, especially given the constraints he had to face. Given the lack of majority of his Government and his relative lack of appeal to any particular class of voters, the very fact that he could survive for five years was a masterful achievement. One may recall that in the period between 1989 and 1999, India had seen six other minority Governments, none of which could survive beyond two years.

The economic liberalization was largely orchestrated by him. Even though he allowed Manmohan Singh to take the credits, he used a number of tricks, including coaxing, cajoling, threatening, invoking Nehru, making gross exaggerations and massive understatements and clever sleight of hands to keep the reforms running. With hindsight, one may think that the reforms were a fait accompli, but at that point of time, they were anything but. Steeped in a culture of socialism and a deeply ingrained fear of multinational companies, the entire Congress party apparatus had to be convinced of the utility of the reforms, not to speak of the unrelenting opposition of the unions and communist parties. It was a mammoth and Herculean task, all the more remarkable since Rao before 1991 had shown no sign of faith in free market. The effect of these reforms on India proved to be deep and lasting.

It is instructive to note how Rao’s economic legacy has stood the test of time. Future Prime Ministers have attempted to largely preserve Rao’s economic reforms, while making small tweaks and changes at the margins. There has been no wholesale course correction along the way. Rao’s vision of India gradually becoming a social democracy, ala some of the Western European countries, through rapid economic growth and high expenditure on the poor and the downtrodden, was put to fruition by the United Progressive Alliance government.  The failures of his economic policies – mainly his inability to sell economic reforms as a vote getting measure – were also passed on to his successors, none of whom could package the reforms in a way that would be appealing to the general voting public.

Other major achievements of his Government include initiating a policy of closer foreign ties with USA, Israel, China and South-East Asian countries, resolving to a large extent the internal security situations in Kashmir, Punjab and Assam and making substantial progress in the development of nuclear weapons technology. In fact, after extensive research, Sitapati comes to the conclusion that India was ready to become a nuclear power in 1996; but the same was deferred to 1998 only because of the loss of Rao in the 1996 general election. In many of these cases, Rao’s socialistic, Nehruvian instincts were at odds with the post-Soviet world in a flux; but, he was quick to learn and make decisions on the basis of the changed realities. Another admirable trait of Rao was that he was comfortable in downplaying the revolutionary nature of some of his decisions, to reduce the resistance to their implementation. He realised that deep seated, entrenched interests are often not comfortable with dramatic changes and it is better to camouflage such actions under a veneer of incrementalism and continuity, even though this could result in downplaying his legacy at a later date.

Rao’s failures were also many. Any discussion of Rao’s legacy would include the Babri Masjid demolition and the ensuing riots that followed. But Sitapati here provides a justifiable defence of Rao’s action, or rather inaction, during those dark days. The Government of Uttar Pradesh in 1992 was headed by Kalyan Singh, a Mandir supporter. It was a BJP administration and the police and other paramilitary forces in that state had to report to the BJP Government. So, the only way the Central Government could have absolutely ensured that there would no demolition was by invoking Article 356 and dismissing the state Government. But the dismissal of a state Government in anticipation of a law and order situation would have been undesirable, as well as open to legal challenges. The Cabinet also refused to recommend the same unequivocally to the Prime Minister. In other words, it was a Catch-22 situation and there were no easy choices before the Government at the Center.

True to his nature, Rao tried to work out a back channel compromise with the leaders of BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal, extracting promise from their leaders that the mosque would not fall. But given the number of kar sevaks at the site (a few hundred thousands) and the communally charged atmosphere, even these leaders had scant control over the action of the kar sevaks, or were willing to blindside the Government into a false sense of complacency. Either way, the mosque came down, India’s secular credentials were damaged forever and massive communal riots followed.

While with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to blame Rao for this tragedy; perhaps given the constitutional challenges he faced and the information that was available to him at that time, he made the best effort he could. What was not defensible, however, was standing by silently as the Home Minister while thousands of Sikhs were butchered in open day light in the streets of Delhi, after the death of Indira Gandhi in 1984. Sitapati again makes the point that the Delhi Police during the Sikh riots was directly being controlled by the Prime Ministers’ Office, by-passing the office of the Home Ministry; this does not though excuse the fact as a Home Minister, Rao was a silent witness to one of the most gruesome episodes of state abetted communal rioting in modern Indian history.

Rao’s streak of pragmatism had its downsides as well. In order to secure his position as the head of a minority government, he resorted to bribing some of the regional party politicians. There is at least one instance where he probably bribed the MPs of Jharkhand Multi Morcha to secure their support for a no confidence motion. His Nixonian tendencies were also apparent in the way he used the state intelligence agencies to keep a close watch on other politicians, both from his own party and the opposition. Prior to 1996 elections, he also instructed CBI to proceed on the Hawala Scam, a dubious scandal where important politicians like Arjun Singh (an influential rebel Congress leader) and LK Advani (leader of BJP, the main opposition party) were implicated with scant proof. All of these were morally indefensible and politically odious steps, and served to significantly dilute the legacy of Rao. There was also the stench of multiple other accusations of corruption that Rao had to face, although he was subsequently acquitted in all of them. His experiments in welfare reforms also met with failures.

Another crucial dimension of Rao’s tenure was his often fraught relationship with Sonia Gandhi, the reclusive widow of Rajiv Gandhi and the Head of the family that had controlled the Congress Party since independence. While initially, he took pains to pay weekly visits to Sonia Gandhi, the frequency of their interactions gradually waned as Rao became more confident of the stability of the Government as well as his position in the Party. This allowed their relationship to wither and fracture, resulting in his legacy being completely erased from the collective memory of the party once he had relinquished office. In the sycophant culture of Congress, one cannot prosper without being suitably deferential to the first family. One may wonder if Manmohan Singh, the future Prime Minister of the country, had internalized this lesson; his almost complete submission to the first family would later be cited by the critics to allege his weakness as a leader and dilution of the constitutional post of Prime Minister.

At the end of Rao’s regime, India was on the path to long term economic growth, its ties with US and Israel were becoming stronger after years of neglect, its internal security was in a far better shape and it was on the verge of becoming a nuclear superpower. However, the fruits of the reforms initiated by Rao’s administration were to accrue over the years and decades to follow and none of them were palpable to the citizens of India at that moment. Instead, the negatives of Rao’s regime – the bickering between Congress leaders, the whiff of multiple scandals, the devastation wrecked by the communal riots and an anodyne Prime Minister who downplayed his economic achievements and failed to connect intimately with the public –were remembered by the voters in the 1996 election. As a result, the tally of Congress came down dramatically in the 1996 election, to around 140 seats and it was no more even the single largest party in the House. It also permanently lost any ability to compete in vast swathes of North India, including in the populous states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. After the defeat, the rest of the Congress Party was relieved to see the back of the Prime Minister and he was allowed to spend the last eight years of his life in obscurity, fighting the cases piled up against him, estranged from the Party leadership.

PV Narasimha Rao was a complex, fascinating character and his time as Prime Minister of India was equally complex and fascinating. While Sitapati analyzes in excruciating detail the numerous achievements and failings of his life, at times, he tends to give Rao the benefit of the doubt, even on occasions where Rao was clearly on a morally sticky wicket. While ‘Half Lion’ is by no means a hagiography, the author’s excellent work is marred to some extent by his attempts at explaining away the failings of Rao’s character and administration. Whether Rao was a great leader is a debatable question, but what is beyond doubt that he was an immensely consequential leader who steered our country through an extremely precarious stage in its history. He is a leader who needs and deserves to be studied thoroughly, and ‘Half Lion’ is a brilliant attempt at that.

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‘This Town’ – The Moral Decay of Washington DC

capitolatdawn

Looks Can be Deceptive: The Capitol at Dawn

“America is, and always will be, a shining city on a hill” – Ronald Reagan

The Gipper was said to be a man of great optimism. A passionate believer in the concept of American exceptionalism, his shiny disposition and hopeful speeches defined the eighties as America was able to leave behind the malaise of the 1970s, the humiliation of Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, the stagflation brought about by the oil price shocks and the general gloom that surrounded the end of the post war boom, to emerge the most powerful nation in the world. After a mild depression in the late 1980s, America was to enjoy uninterrupted economic growth for the next decade even as most of its cold war rivals withered away.

Sadly, the 21st Century has not been so kind to America. A number of wounds, both self inflicted and otherwise, have slowed down the progress of the country and threatened its hegemony at the top of the world. A deadly terrorist attack on its own soil, followed by two costly and ineffective wars, the economic crisis of 2008, the growing inequality in its society, the escalating deficit and external debt, a rising China and an ambitious Russia, waning influence in some of the major conflict zones, etc. have deprived the country of much of its vitality and optimism. In spite of the slow but steady economic recovery over the last eight years, most Americans feel their country is moving in the wrong direction. In late 2016, they responded by electing Donald Trump, a trigger-happy, political neophyte, a dangerous demagogue and populist, a man who believes America is a waning global power, as the next President.

In the midst of this gloom, there is one unlikely exception, though. That exception is Washington DC, the political and administrative capital of the country. It is in the middle of an unprecedented boom, the likes of which few has ever seen. It is the shining city perched atop smugly over a country often engulfed in darkness, despair and hopelessness.

Three kinds of people dominate the rich and murky world of DC – politicians (and by extension political operatives), lobbyists and political journalists. While by definition, they should keep a safe distance from each other, so as to avoid any appearance of conflict, in the last few years, distinction between these entities has become more and more hazy. They have become part of the same hungry pool of passengers, atop the same gravy train.

Even as the US economy has spluttered to a halt and then struggled to rev up again, various corporate entities have ramped up spending on lobbyists, making millionaires out of former Senators, Congressmen and even obscure officials previously working for the Government. These lobbyists generally operate out of the capital and an increasing number of them are former politicians who have served the country in the past and are not loathe using the expertise and know-hows obtained during these stints for the benefit of their current corporate paymasters.

The emergence of internet and then social media may have resulted in massive layoffs of reporters working for small town newspapers, but in Washington DC, it has led to the proliferation of talking heads and so-called ‘experts’ in the big media houses, people who charge massive amount of money to run their shows or write weekly op-eds, by virtue of their so-called expertise in certain topics. Then there are the ubiquitous brokers or agents, whose job is to arrange these business deals for former elected officials or public servants who want to cash out of their previously measly paid career by working as a lobbyist, in the corporate world or in the media as pundits.

Most people in this politician-lobbyist-media complex know each other and are a part of a big circle of influencers who have a hugely disproportionate say on the affairs of the country. And this circle keeps increasing every single day. While politicians of the yore used to toil for years in relative obscurity, now even the press secretaries of ambitious Congressmen attract enough interest to have their profiles written and splashed in the media. This is partly thanks to the presence of media outlets like Politico which has showered attention on this circle of politicians, lobbyists and political journalists, reporting and fawning on them like the Hollywood tabloids do on its celebrities. The neediness of the rich and the powerful is satiated by the sense of belonging that a mention in such columns provides. It is kind of ironic that apart from the most die-hard political junkies and habitual media consumers, these reports are read mostly by the inhabitants of DC itself, thus squaring this incestuous circle.

Then are the parties. There is a party in DC celebrating almost every occasion, from the launch of a book by a semi-famous political journalist to one celebrating the end of world as predicted by the Mayan calendar. To a group of people whose worth is measured by the number of other people in that same group they know, these parties act as vital lifelines of their professional lives. To top it all, there is the White House Correspondents Dinner, a glitzy annual ritual that spawns scores of before parties and after parties, stretching across days, ostensibly to celebrate the great job these privileged inhabitants of Washington are doing, attended by the same privileged inhabitants of Washington, invoking decadence of the scale that even ‘The Great Gatsby’ may find slightly repulsive.

Needless to say, life in Washington DC has become a heady cocktail of uninhibited human greed, scant regard for public interest and a tone-deaf attitude to the suffering of the ordinary countrymen.

The dichotomy between Washington and the rest of America is apparent from the economic statistics. The median annual household income in Washington DC stands at USD 72,000, the highest in the country. But the figure is dragged down by the high number of people living below poverty line in DC, predominantly African-Americans who are outside its politician-lobbyist-media-influencer circle and have much lower income. Many of the people working in Washington actually prefer to live in the surrounding affluent suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. As many as five of the six richest counties of USA are located in either Northern Virginia (Loudoun County, Fairfax County, Arlington County and Stafford County) or Maryland (Howard County), both surrounding DC and part of the Baltimore-Washington-Northern Virginia region.

‘This Town’ – a book by Mark Leibovich, the Washington correspondent of New York Times Magazine is an excellent chronicle of the farcical and dysfunctional life at the Capital. It is a powerful and biting satire on the lives of the powerful men and women who live a life of outsized proportions in the gilded capital of the country, working hard though out the day and partying and networking throughout the evening, getting fat pay packages for their work, their salaries insulated from the economic turmoil faced by ordinary people they claim to work for. It is a story packed with colorful characters, like oddball senators who are impervious to the machinations of Washington, hypocritical Congressmen who come to the capital to change the political culture and then become a part of it, the middleman who turns up at every party and knows everyone but whose exact job description is a secret, the hyper-ambitious Congressional staffer with fondness for the limelight and loose work-ethics, the journalist who chronicles the everyday life of this fortunate cabal with religious regularity and then sends this news letter every morning to the very same people he is writing about.

Ironies abound the storyline; like when “pro-poor” Democratic Party officials discuss the rising number of food stamps over several courses of very expensive food and drinks or when a Senator rails against the Washington culture of politicians turning into lobbyists and then promptly joins a lobbying firm after leaving his office. Differences in political ideologies are just part of their made up public persona; liberals and conservatives enter into aggressive fights on the talk shows, only to bury the hatchet later and open ‘bi-partisan’ lobbying firms together. It is all part of a circus where people put on their ideological masks, do whatever their public persona dictates them to do and then when the show light is turned off, show a giant middle finger to all these nagging principles and cash out with a big, fat corporate job.

When Barack Obama was elected the President in 2008, he was voted in by a massive wave of hope and expectation, that he would somehow change the toxic political culture of Washington. It was believed that the campaign of this first time senator from Illinois, run by Chicago based operatives who treated the Washington folks with disdain, would result in a White House vastly different from the incumbent one. Eight years later, the political culture of Washington has turned even more toxic. More and more veterans from the Obama campaign, the kind of people who openly mocked Government servants for joining corporate or lobbying firms, have left the Government to do exactly the same thing. The lines of ‘conflict of interest’ have become increasingly blurred as people who work in the senior management of various companies leave their jobs to work in the Government, become part of the bodies which frame regulations and then return to work for the same corporates to try and find loopholes in the regulations they helped write.

Every two years, fresh Senators and Congressmen descend onto the capital, crusading against the corrupt culture of ‘this town’ and vowing to cleanse it. Soon enough, if they are lucky to survive a few years, they become part of the political culture itself; if they survive longer, they become the consummate insiders. It does not take long for them to forget their campaign slogans, as they start becoming ‘institutionalized’, getting sucked into this vortex of mutual back-scratching. Many of them prefer to stay back even after they retire or are voted out, preferring to work as a Head of Strategy or Communications in a lobbying firm named after the partners, putting all the connections and insider knowledge gleaned over the years to good use.

This town, Washington, is thus a beautiful, seductive den of vice; people who cannot get in blame it for all their ills, while people who are inside cannot have enough of it.

It is no wonder that the residents of Washington have some of the most awful favourability ratings among all Americans. Only around 14% Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. Media does only scarcely better, with an approval rating of 19%. On a Gallup Survey of honesty and ethics in professions, journalists rank well below doctors, engineers, dentists, police officers and even the much reviled bankers. But, Senators and Members of Congress rank much below journalists, towards the bottom of the list, competing hard with the likes of insurance salespeople and car sales people. Lobbyists through take the cake, with around 60% of respondents saying they have low or very low honesty or ethics. The corresponding figure for accountants is just 7%.

Like in 2008, the voters of America in 2016 have elected for President a candidate who managed to convince the ordinary folks that he will drain the sludge of corruption that has swamped the corridors of power in Washington. In the process, they decided to vote against a candidate who was far more accomplished and qualified, but who in the course of her career had become the ultimate Washington insider, a personification of its political culture, if you will. Like in 2008, this attempt too shall probably fail; Trump’s shady business empire, his refusal to declare his tax returns and his corrupt records in the past do not portend well for those want to actually drain the sludge from this town. Washington will probably continue to prosper, Trump or no Trump, attracting some of the best minds of the country, living in its own bubble, even as its fortune continue to diverge away from the country as a whole. Nevertheless, a few years down the line, when you wonder how frustrated and disenchanted the American voters had become with their everyday politicians to vote for a man like Trump, you can do worse than read Mark Leibovich’s ‘This Town’.

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How Rural Voters Delivered the White House to Donald Trump

The comfortable victories of Barack Obama in two successive presidential elections in 2008 and 2012 were forged by an alliance of white voters in the north and minority voters across the country. The contribution of white voters was critical to the performance of Obama. This was reflected in the way he won extremely white and rural Northern states like Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, as well as Northern states with a mix of urban and rural population, like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

In 2016, the support of rural voters (who tend to be overwhelmingly white) for the Democratic Party collapsed as Hillary Clinton managed to lose even light blue states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan and was blanked out in Ohio and Iowa. She even close came to losing in New Hampshire and Minnesota. Vast number of white, rural counties in Middle America, which voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, turned their backs to the Democratic Party and instead voted en masse for Donald Trump. This was compensated, to some extent, by the gains she made in the heavily urban states and territories of Texas, California, Arizona, Massachusetts and District of Columbia. Unfortunately for Clinton, the gains did not prove meaningful at the electoral college level, as California, DC and Massachusetts were anyway going to vote for Clinton while the gains made in Texas and Arizona were not sufficient to deliver the states to her.

The relationship between the percentage of total votes obtained by Hillary Clinton in a particular state to the level of urbanization of the state has been shown in the following chart:

support-for-hillary-vs-level-of-urbanization

In USA, at the country level, the percentage of population who live in urban areas is 80%. As many as 33 states have level of urbanization below the national average. Clinton lost in 27 of them. In contrast, Obama had lost only 22 of them in 2012. Among the states and territories that are more urbanized than the country as a whole, Clinton ended up losing only Texas, Arizona and Florida.

However, it is not just that the vote share of Clinton was higher among more urbanized states. She also gained votes in more urban states and lost votes in more rural states. This is reflected in the following chart which plots the percentage gain in margin by Clinton in a particular state vs the level of urbanization of the state. (By percentage gain in margin, I mean how the margin changed in 2016 from the level of 2012; for example, if Obama won a state by 3% in 2012 and Clinton won the state by 5%, the percentage gain for Clinton would be 2%. Also note that Utah has been excluded from all the charts because of the strong performance of third party candidate McMullin on the ballot there).

gain-in-margin-vs-urbanization

All the states where Clinton was able to improve on the performance of Obama from four years back had at least 70% of the respective population living in urban areas.

This relationship also holds good if I just restrict the level of urbanization to the percentage of population which live in cities with a population of more than a hundred thousand.

gain-in-margin-vs-people-living-in-large-cities

Thus, the urban-rural divide which was already present in the American politics has become even starker in the 2016 election. If this trend holds, Iowa will become a red state while the margins of the Democrats may further shrink in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Most states of the Rust Belt and Mid West will continue to remain swing states while Democrats may gradually improve on their performance in Texas and Arizona.

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How Trump Won Despite Forecasting Models Saying Otherwise

Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US Presidential election was a shocker – all the poll based statistical models had shown Hillary Clinton as the strong favourite for winning the election, with the probability of her winning varying from 70% to as high as 99%. The predictable outcome of the 2012 US election and the success of these models in that election cycle had bred a lot of complacency among some of the data journalists this time around. Further, the mainstream media had also started blindly believing in the outputs of the models without in many cases understanding the assumptions that went into the models, the limitations of the models or the implications of what the models say.

This herd mentality among the mainstream media, the pundits and the data journalists became so extreme in the last one week that Nate Silver was subjected to intense criticism because his model showed a comparatively lower 65%-70% probability of Clinton winning than the election, relative to some of the other models which were showing the prospect of a Clinton Presidency a near certainty. In my last post, I had explained why the model employed by Fivethirtyeight (the website run by Nate Silver) was more conservative in projecting a Clinton victory and why in my view, it was right in doing so.

A statistical model is an imperfect simulation of the real world. Since it is impossible to replicate a chaotic, massive and dynamic process like the US presidential election, to forecast the same, simple models are instead constructed, which take some input variables and through a pre-defined interaction between these variables, find out the most probable outcome. In the case of election forecasting models, they take in state and country level polls (and some demographic and economic factors in some cases) and try to predict the outcome of the US election on the basis of how these polls change.

However, a model, by its very nature, is a simplistic rendering of a complex process and hence, there are some uncertainties involved with the outcome. A well calibrated model is one where the uncertainties are well accounted for i.e. if the model is used to predict a high frequency event, over the long run, the probability of the event as predicted by the model and as is exhibited in the real world shall converge.

The US presidential election though is not a high frequency event. So it is not possible to run the election 10,000 times to find if Clinton is winning 7000 times as was predicted by Silver’s model. However, as Silver had mentioned repeatedly and as was mentioned in this post, there were a number of sources of uncertainties related to the outcome, which were apparent even during the days of the pre-election consensus among pundits that Clinton had more or less won the election.

Unfortunately for Clinton, and unfortunately for the models, almost all the sources of uncertainties in the model (i.e. the things that could have gone wrong for Clinton) went wrong on the Election Day. Here is a litany of factors that made us relatively bearish on Clinton’s chances on the Election Day and almost all of which came true:

  • The final average of national polls has historically differed from the result on the Election Day by around 2 percentage points. There have been some years when the polls have differed more markedly. For example, in 2012, the difference was around 3%, a trivia that is often missed out in the discussions on how the election was so stable and predictable that year. In fact, if the error had been in the other direction, Mitt Romney would have won the election. This time, the error favoured the Republicans. Clinton is expected to win the popular vote share this year, perhaps by 1-1.5 percentage point by the time all the votes are counted. In contrast, the Fivethirtyeight model had Clinton winning the national vote by 3.6 percentage points. Thus, the polling error, at least at the national level, was mostly in line with the historical errors.
  • There was a lot of volatility in the polling data in a number of swing states. For example, even as the national polls started recovering the week after news came out that FBI was re-opening the investigation into Clinton emails, a number of swing state polls started showing extremely tight races. In contrast, there were also a number of polls which showed Clinton ahead by multiple points in the states which were part of her firewall. The biggest example was New Hampshire which showed the variance of Cinton’s performance at around 15 percentage points. The volatile state polls were an indication of the uncertainty of the outcome which sadly went unheeded at that time.
  • The polls also swung wildly in the course of the election – from a narrow Trump victory to a decisive Clinton win. Unfortunately for Clinton, one of the most terrible stretches for the Clinton campaign just came in before the elections, when polls tightened considerably. Although the polls showed some rebound for Clinton in the dying days of the campaign, it was not enough to bring her out of the woods.
  • There were a number of undecided and third party voters in the election, much higher than the level of 2012. Exit polls showed that higher share of such late deciding voters decided to vote for Trump, thus contributing to the polls being skewed in favour of Clinton.
  • Even in the days before the election, there was an unusually number of swing states that were very closely contested. It was plausible for either candidate to win in almost 15 states. Such a high number of swing states made a number of Electoral College combinations possible, thus increasing the uncertainty of the race. As the results came in, many of these states indeed turned out to be too close to call. In fact, Clinton lost Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – all by extremely narrow margin. If she had won these states, she would have won the presidency.
  • There was additional uncertainty on account of the problems being faced by the polling industry in general – with increasing cost of carrying out surveys and reduced respondent participation rate. This had led to the pollsters badly misjudging the polls in multiple high profile events in the recent past, like the UK parliamentary election, Israel Knesset election and the referendum for Brexit. The poor performance of the polling industry continued in the Election Day in USA. Even though the error in national polls was in line with the historical average, in a number of states, it was glaring. For example, in Wisconsin, the RealClearPolitics average of polls had Clinton leading Trump by 6.5 percentage points. Clinton did not trail in a single poll in the entire election cycle in that state. Even then, she lost the vote by 1 percentage point. Similarly, the polls were very bullish on a Clinton victory in both Pennsylvania and Michigan, part of Clinton’s so-called firewall. To exacerbate the issue, many of these states, including Michigan and Minnesota were not polled very frequently in the days leading to the election, which perhaps lulled the Democrats into a false sense of complacency based on limited data.
  • The error in polling in the states, especially geographically and demographically similar states, is generally correlated with each other i.e. the errors move in the same direction. For example, if the polls are understating the level of Trump support in Michigan, it is likely to do so in neighbouring Pennsylvania and Minnesota as well. This is what happened on the election night, as the polls badly missed the mark in all the critical Rust Belt and Midwest states. If the error in polls instead had cancelled each other out, Clinton could have won comfortably in some of these states.
  • Clinton was always at a disadvantage in the Electoral College, relative to popular votes. As her base of Hispanic voters is more concentrated in some red and blue states, she over-performed Obama in a handful of such states. However, in almost all the swing states, her performance was much worse than that of Obama. As a result, Clinton was always an underdog if her lead over Trump fell to around 1 percentage point. This outcome came true on the Election Night, leading to the bizarre scenario of Clinton winning the popular vote share narrowly while losing the Electoral College decisively.

While all these factors, the values of which were not known while forecasting, went against Clinton, there were also some other such factors which were considered positive to Clinton and yet proved to be false dawns and red herrings for her. For example, the models did not consider the early voting data, which almost conclusively pointed to a Clinton victory in Nevada and more tentatively, to some advantages in Florida and North Carolina. On the Election Day, Clinton was able to hold on to her lead in Nevada, but it dissipated in the face of massive rural, white voting in favour of Trump in Florida and North Carolina. Further, Clinton’s extensive investment in the ground game and ‘get out the vote’ operations were expected to lead to her over-performing the polls, especially in swing states. But the results indicated that there was hardly any turnout advantage for Clinton in most swing states.

To conclude, Clinton was doomed by a mixture of uncertain factors, almost all of which ultimately broke against her. A large portion of Trump’s unexpected victory can be explained by a variety of known unknowns i.e. factors which were known and whose outcomes were uncertain, but which ultimately favoured Trump. Given that real world is vastly complex, models are designed to be simple and presidential elections are discreet, infrequent events, such errors cannot be ruled out. This is why it is always a good idea for modellers to recognize these uncertainties and calibrate their models accordingly. The Fivethirtyeight model had accounted for most of these factors, but many others had not, leading to preposterous level of confidence in a Clinton victory that never came.

 

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US Election 2016: Why Polls Have Fluctuated so Wildly

The 2012 US election was a staid and placid affair. There were two very decent, un-exciting and sedate (some would even say boring) men at the top of the tickets. Both were well vetted candidates, both were devout family men with doting wives and had hardly any personal scandal to speak of. The election was primarily fought on the issue of the economy. There were nerdy discussions on whose plans would contribute how much to the deficit and how that would be financed. Both the campaigns deployed an array of experts to defend their respective plans with an avalanche of projections and numbers. It was a dream election for the wonks and the policy nerds.

In keeping with the overall tenor of the campaigns, the polls were also pretty stable. President Obama eked out a narrow but stable lead over Mitt Romney after the Democratic Party convention and maintained the same till the election night, although there were some temporary hiccups after his lackadaisical performance at the First Presidential Debate. He went on to win the election comfortably.

The 2016 election, on the other hand, has been quite a picture of contrast. The election is being fought between two candidates who are the dreams of the opposition research teams. In the course of this ugly, brutal campaign, America has been reminded again of the 90s’ era Clinton scandals and the new scandals that have been uncovered during her stint at the Foggy Bottoms. But that has been nothing compared to the avalanche of controversial statements that have emerged from the mouth of Donald Trump. With a parade of ugly, bigoted, xenophobic, racist and sexist slurs going around, this election season has been reduced to smear campaigns, political mudslinging and repulsive rhetoric. Any discussion related to policies has very much been conspicuous by its absence.

The polling in this election season has also been far more volatile. The polls have generally oscillated between giving a clear lead to Hillary Clinton and returning a virtual tie between the candidates. A comparison of how the Real Clear Politics average support of Clinton and Trump (in the solid blue and red lines respectively) moved in 2016 with those of Obama and Clinton (in the dotted blue and red lines) four years back has been shown in the following chart:

2012-vs-2016

 

What has been the reason behind this large fluctuation in polls compared to the steady polls four years back?

Well, as mentioned above, the major differentiating factor between the elections of 2012 and 2016 has been the steady drip of salacious news that has emerged about the various scandals and controversial statements of the candidates. The relative interest being generated by the candidates in the news cycle can be gauged by the comparison of their Google Search Indices. The Google search index has been relatively dominated by Trump which points to his ability to hog headlines and drive news coverage, although Hillary Clinton has also been able to attract more search interest in between. The Google search interest for both the candidates in USA since the beginning of August is reflected in the following chart:

google-candidates-search

If we plot the difference in the Google Search index between Trump and Clinton against the margin by Clinton led Trump (with a lag of seven days) we obtain the following chart:

google-vs-rcp

The chart shows a negative relationship between the search interest of the candidate and his or her standing in the polls i.e. when a candidate starts attracting more news, he or she also drops in the polls.

There are two major reasons behind the same:

  • The candidates have mainly attracted negative news coverage since the party conventions. Positive news cycles have been hard to come by and exceedingly rare.
  • The candidates are already extremely unpopular with the American electorate. As a result, the more they manage to stay out of the headlines, the more their opponent starts occupying mind space of the electorate, the more the negative image of the opponent is reinforced and the more they gain in polls.

These have been proven a number of times during this year’s election cycle. Immediately, after the Democratic Party convention, Trump entered into a completely gratuitous feud with Khizr Khan and his wife, the parents of a dead US soldier, who had delivered a speech critical of Trump at the Democratic National Convention. This resulted in depressed polling numbers for Trump throughout August. But as the news gradually faded from public memory, his numbers began to again improve. He was further aided by more news about the Clinton email scandal, Clinton’s comments that half of Trump’s supporters belong to a “basket of deplorable” and finally, news emerging that the Clinton campaign failed to disclose their candidate suffering from pneumonia. The poll numbers of Trump recovered throughout early and mid September and by the time of their first debate, Trump was virtually tied with Clinton in most polls. This is the point where Trump again started receiving negative coverage because of his poor performance at the debate, revelations that he had body-shamed a former Miss Universe who used to work for him and that he had failed to pay any taxes for a major part of the last two decades. Then, the Washington Post published tapes revealing him talking in ‘extremely lewd’ terms about women, which further reinforced the negative news cycle. Just when though it seemed like Clinton would win the election in a canter, came the news of FBI re-opening investigation into her emails and her numbers fell again.

Looking at this pattern, it is very much apparent that for the two candidates in this year’s election, the best strategy would have been to create as limited news as possible and instead, keep the spotlight squarely on the opponent. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially when there are a number of media outlets competing with each other to publish any bit of sensational news they can lay their hands on. Trump, however, is an undisciplined candidate who finds it difficult to stay on message. This, along with his propensity to over-react to the slightest bit of provocation and not having a tightly-knit, well run campaign like Clinton, makes it more likely that he is the one making the news, rather than Hillary.

This movement in the polls also leads credence to the theory that this election could have been an extremely close one, only if Trump had run a better campaign. When the political conversation has not been hijacked by Trump, like in the last one week, he has tended to do better, to the point of breaking even with Clinton in various stages. But the moment the voters get reminded of the many failings of Trump, he starts receding in polls. The fact that Republican Senate candidates in competitive states are polling better than Trump is a further reminder of a winnable election for the GOP being sacrificed at the altar of Trump’s inability to keep his mouth shut.

In fact, this strategy of Trump – to flood news coverage with one controversial comment after the other – served him well during the Republican primaries, allowing him to hog the headlines and deprive his rivals of media oxygen.

In a campaign that had around seventeen candidates, receiving disproportionate media coverage can be extremely helpful. Further, during the primaries, Trump was appealing to the  hard core Republican voters who were much more receptive to these comments deemed controversial by the mainstream media (like labelling Mexican immigrants as “rapists and murderers”, calling for a total ban on entry of Muslims into the country, etc.). But in a general election campaign where you have to fight off only one opponent, backed by a disciplined and well-oiled election apparatus, and where you are trying to appeal to the median, swing vote, this kind of “any publicity is good publicity” strategy is likely to fail. The last week shows that Trump has learnt this lesson well, but sadly for his campaign it may have come a little too late.

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