Fri, 24 May 2024 Today's Paper

JVP Support Surges with the Collapse of the Economy and the Gotabaya Presidency

16 August 2022 12:00 am - 9     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

A A A

  • Our Presidential tracker only offered respondents two choices to replicate the scenario in a real election after second preference votes are transferred to the top two candidates, so support for Sajith automatically increased, as Gotabaya’s fell
  • Since March 2022, there has been a dramatic collapse in the favourability ratings of all the politicians we track, regardless of whether they are in the government or opposition
  • Our polling suggests that during early March to late June, which coincides with the Aragalaya protests, many voters lost faith in President Rajapaksa and the SLPP, but were hesitant to support either the SJB or the NPP/JVP
  • The country faces considerable hardship and critical economic choices in the next few months as it negotiates an IMF agreement and restructures foreign debt. Realistically, the current government will lead this process 
  • Since March 2022, there has been a dramatic collapse in the favourability ratings of all the politicians we track, regardless of whether they are in the government or opposition

 

The street protests and the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on July 14 was accompanied by a collapse in support for the ruling parties. The nation faces critical economic and political choices, but this did not lead to public consensus about whom to support. That is now changing, with the NPP/JVP emerging as the most popular choice of Sri Lankans. At the Institute for Health Policy (IHP), our Sri Lanka Opinion Tracker Survey (SLOTS) has been tracking public opinion every day since August 2021, interviewing people across the country. I share here for the first time what we have been seeing, and how we have been doing this.


The collapse in support for President Rajapaksa


As the economy seemed to recover, reflected in improvements in IHP’s SLOTS Index of Consumer Sentiment (ICS) which tracks consumer confidence, and as the COVID-19 Delta wave receded in late 2021, support for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recovered. Earlier, his popularity had been hit by failing to respond strongly and earlier to the Delta wave. Our August–September polling revealed strong public support for tougher COVID-19 controls, a view that the government should have acted earlier, especially amongst poorer Sri Lankans, and high public regard for Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, the one minister who had signalled her unhappiness with the COVID-19 response. 


From October to January 2022, PresidentRajapaksa led in our Presidential Election tracker poll, which asked people who they would vote for if given a two-way choice of President Rajapaksa or Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa. But as the economic crisis became evident—in foreign exchange scarcities, supply disruptions, lack of cash in the Treasury, and then from March in nationwide power cuts, consumer confidence collapsed and with it support for the President. 


This wasn’t a pushback against a perceived ethnic agenda nor conversely perceptions that he was failing to look after Sinhala Buddhist interests, nor any outcry against corruption. “It’s the economy, stupid” as James Carville, Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist, once said. There is a remarkable correlation between trends in consumer confidence and President Rajapaksa’s electoral support during September 2021—March 2022. Sri Lankan voters resemble those in Western democracies. Culture and identity issues influence people, but it’s living standards that really matter in the end. Our Presidential tracker only offered respondents two choices to replicate the scenario in a real election after second preference votes are transferred to the top two candidates, so support for Sajith automatically increased, as Gotabaya’s fell. In March 2022, Sajith edged ahead in our tracking of a two-way contest, and the two then ran within our survey’s margin of error—effectively neck and neck—till June, when Sajith took a clear lead as the Aragalaya filled the streets.  

 

Collapse in President Rajapaksa’s support driven by growing economic pessimism and economic collapse, October 2021–July 2022

Rising disaffection with all politicians


However, Sajith Premadasa’s position was much weaker than this indicates. His support was soft, and his favourability ratings were falling with the Presidents. Since August 2021, we have been tracking the favourability of leading politicians. Net favourability is the difference between the percentage of people who say they have a favourable opinion and those who have an unfavourable opinion of an individual. In other countries, this often predicts how Presidential candidates will perform in a real election.


Gotabaya retained a net positive favourability (+10 to +30) that was better than Sajith’s during late 2021 through early 2022. When it fell and became deeply negative (-70 and less) in April, Sajith’s fell also, although not as steeply. By May, both Gotabaya (-76) and Sajith (-77) had equally negative favourability ratings, and Sajith’s lead in our two-way Presidential Election tracker was despite most of the public also reporting an unfavourable view of him. At this stage, if Sajith had won a Presidential Election it would have been a rejection of Gotabaya, not a public embracement of him.


These negative favourability ratings were not confined to them. Since March 2022, there has been a dramatic collapse in the favourability ratings of all the politicians we track, regardless of whether they are in the government or opposition. Public disaffection is specifically with the political class since the public continues to report favourable opinions of other stakeholders we track, such as the Ministry of Health, the GMOA and the military. Only a few politicians, such as Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle, now maintain a net positive rating.


As street protests mounted, the public was divided about who to support


There were other indications that Sajith Premadasa was failing to make a positive case to the public, despite the unprecedented economic crisis and the collapse in support for Gotabaya Rajapaksa. First is that in our two-way Presidential polling, large numbers of respondents were refusing to pick a choice, telling us that they wanted to vote for somebody else or would not vote at all. The second came from our General Election tracking poll that asks people which party they would vote for if there was a General Election.


As President Rajapaksa’s support collapsed, support for the ruling SLPP fell. There was a shift in support towards the SJB (and UNP) and the NPP/JVP, with our data suggesting that if a General Election was held in March or April, the SJB might have won. However, the SJB gains were modest. Disaffected SLPP voters were increasingly opting for the NPP/JVP. From April to June, the public was essentially split between all three, with no single party dominating, and large numbers of our respondents sitting on the fence and telling us they would not vote.

 

The rise of the NPP/JVP in General Election and Presidential Election voting
preferences, October 2021–July 2022


After President Rajapaksa’s departure, the NPP/JVP emerges as the biggest winner


From June, as street protests made President Gotabaya’s position untenable, leading to his resignation, support for the NPP/JVP surged with the number of undecided respondents declining, indicating many were finally deciding. The NPP/JVP took a clear lead. By mid-July, more than half of Sri Lankan adults would have voted for the NPP/JVP. However, this may overstate JVP performance, as NPP/JVP supporters were less likely to have voted at previous elections or were less strongly committed, so might not turn out on the day. The SJB and UNP, who I will treat as one bloc for reasons of simplicity, would be in second place, leaving the SLPP and SLFP bloc, a distant third, and probably failing to win seats in many districts.


We recently modified our Presidential Election tracker question to give respondents a three-way choice between Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sajith Premadasa and A.K. Dissanayake. We don’t have responses to this before July, but we can use support for the NPP/JVP in a General Election to proxy supporting AKD in a Presidential poll. When we do this, support for AKD in a hypothetical Presidential Election was increasing from January before surging after May. Today, the JVP leader would probably win a Presidential Election. 


What’s driving the surge in NPP/JVP support?


I don’t have space to discuss what insights SLOTS provides on why voters are picking the NPP/JVP. What I can do is share what it tells us about who these voters are. During April–July, the NPP/JVP and AKD averaged just over 40% in our two tracking polls, far exceeding the JVP’s previous best performance—9% in the 2001 General Election. Much of this support is due to it doing better than the SJB in winning over Sri Lankans who voted for Gotabaya and the SLPP or SLFP back in 2019/20. The NPP/JVP is also winning over voters who opted for Sajith in 2019 and is doing better than the SJB/UNP amongst better-off voters, reflecting bigger gains in urban areas. This is increasingly leaving the SJB core support confined to non-Sinhala voters and worse-off rural voters.
Our polling suggests that during early March to late June, which coincides with the Aragalaya protests, many voters lost faith in President Rajapaksa and the SLPP, but were hesitant to support either the SJB or the NPP/JVP. This was particularly true of Sinhala voters since the SJB had consolidated its support amongst Tamil and Muslim voters during late 2021 to early 2022. But from mid-June, as the government disintegrated and as the economic situation deteriorated, most of these predominantly Sinhala voters came off the fence and picked the NPP/JVP. 

 

How Sri Lankans voted in the Presidential Election 2019 and where those votes would go today, SLOTS April–July 2022


What does this portend in the coming months?


The country faces considerable hardship and critical economic choices in the next few months as it negotiates an IMF agreement and restructures foreign debt. Realistically, the current government will lead this process. This is despite it lacking any significant support in the electorate today, however constitutionally sound its formation is. Most likely, there will be a General Election in early 2023. In those elections on current trends, the choice will be between the SJB and the NPP/JVP. The NPP/JVP is in the ascendant and is likely to replace the SLPP/SLFP as the main centre-left force. The SLPP seems unlikely to recover and will probably need time in opposition to restructure and to rework its relationship with its erstwhile ally the SLFP.


The biggest unknown will be what Sajith Premadasa and the SJB do. Will they be able to work out why they have failed to win over the disaffected Gotabaya/SLPP voter and to capitalize on the ignominious collapse of the SLPP? and will they be able to come up with a new agenda that resonates better with the public? 

 


  Comments - 9

  • Ismet Zaheed Tuesday, 16 August 2022 07:08 AM

    We have to get rid of Ranil Rajapakse who was elected by 134 members of his own clan and I can assure you in all confidence that "Daily Mirror" is not going to publish my comment!

    bandu abey Tuesday, 16 August 2022 10:22 AM

    This real time analysis is invaluable for number of reason. First for the people to realize where they are stand with respect to the opinion of general public. Secondly, for the parties to readjust their positions and readjust. With respect to JVP/NPP, their campaign may be just started this time around and their grassroot supporters haven't been able to identify where they should be. One step for them may be to get back to the villagers and oppressed in order to re-direct their appeal towards the party and consolidate.

    abhaya premawardena Tuesday, 16 August 2022 11:09 AM

    Then win the next election.

    Cholmondeley Pinto Tuesday, 16 August 2022 12:30 PM

    The only proof of the pudding is in the eating. Public opinions change by the day like a tsunami wave and polls during a tsunami makes very little sense.

    City Tuesday, 30 August 2022 06:11 PM

    Totally agree with you, the floating vote is the turning point in our elections. Also don't forget any new candidate also can make a difference in these statistics.

    Cherath Wednesday, 17 August 2022 04:22 PM

    Despite the avalanche of accusations,(always mentioning 71,88,89 as the final and desperate attempt to stem the rising gush of its popularity) the NPP seem to have little bother in holding it's own. This in the main, due to its watertight agenda to counter the economic and social challenges, which the other parties couldn't quite match. He fact that NPP's popularity is spread across the whole spectrum of society is proof enough it is a viable contender.

    Martin Milton Saturday, 03 September 2022 07:30 PM

    True there appears to be a 'surge' in support for JVP aka NPP. However a couple of questions that media people have FAILED to ask the JVP leadership are: 1) Will they go for a Federal State IF elected to power by majority?? 2) Will they grant a separate State viz 'Tamil Eelam' to the Tamil separatists in the North, implementing 13 A and another separate State to the radical Muslims in the East - IF elected to power?? These are very crucial and extremely vital questions which the JVP need to deal with and answer publicly ASAP in a credible manner. Why will no politician raise these issues in Parliament for heavens' sake?? MM

    In the name of late Rev Sobitha Thero. Friday, 09 September 2022 12:37 PM

    The NPP/JVP is the answer to the much needed system change and the fraud and crime filled environment we Sri Lankans are subject to at present.

    Tissa Fernando Sunday, 11 September 2022 01:36 AM

    I fully agree that JVP thrives when things are bad. So for JVP to thrive things need to stay bad for ever. That is their agenda.


Add comment

Comments will be edited (grammar, spelling and slang) and authorized at the discretion of Daily Mirror online. The website also has the right not to publish selected comments.

Reply To:

Name - Reply Comment