I read a news article today about large protests in multiple cities by Indian farmers. The protesters are responding to a recent law that they view as providing handouts to large agricultural corporations at the expense of small-scale farmers. That article was about protesters storming the historic Red Fort, once a palace of the Mughal emperors, on a national holiday (Republic Day). But the law was passed in September and protests have been going on at least since November. That article says outright that these protests present a huge problem for Modi. I wanted to find out the degree to which this might be reflected in opinion polls, so I found the Morning Consult's global leader approval tracker. To my surprise, the percentage of the population with a favorable view of Modi hasn't dropped below 70%.
I realize that COVID is a massive compounding factor but something about this doesn't add up. How can there be massive popular protests against the policies of Modi's government and yet very little change in his favorability? To clarify, I'm not asking about whether the agriculture reforms are good policy or not or whether the protesters are justified, it just seems like there's a weird discrepancy between what the news and opinion polls are showing.
The AP article seems to suggest there is some support among the general public for the farmers' position -- "[the protesters] were showered with flower petals by residents". Seeing as these are residents of New Delhi they're presumably urbanites and thus not farm laborers themselves. On top of that, something like 40% of India's population is employed in farm labor. So I'd naively guess that his approval rating would plummet to at most 60%. What gives?
A few hypotheses:
- Bad reporting. The protests are not as widespread or as popular as that article makes them out to be and in fact most Indian farmers have no problem with this new law.
- Insufficient labor statistics research by me. While a large part of the population of India is employed in agriculture, it's possible that relatively few of them are independent small-scale farmers; maybe most are employed by exactly the large agribusiness corporations that this law supposedly favors.
- Bad opinion polling. The Morning Consult is wrong and, if you were to get a more representative sample, Modi's favorability would be much lower.
- A large part of the Indian populace are genuinely displeased with Modi about the agriculture bill but perceive the government as having handled the pandemic fairly well and this is more important. See for example this research article.
- The new law is deeply unpopular and protesters blame parliament as a whole, but Modi is so popular that nothing can tarnish his image.
I find it hard to believe that the Indian government's response to COVID can completely offset any negative feeling from a really unpopular policy; Modi's popularity hit a high water mark in May but declined through June to August, right as the number of cases there started to climb. I also think the Morning Consult is a pretty well-regarded pollster -- 538 gives them the same score as the Pew Research Center and Rutgers University in their pollster ratings.