63% of Indians still support demonetisation, but that number has fallen

Support remains strong for both demonetisation and PM Modi. But there are some points that he may need to pay attention to.

Updated: Dec 13, 2018, 17:02 PM IST

Stockholm Syndrome or Spiral of Silence?
Right after demonetisation, we started a series of tracking polls to gauge the public sentiment around it. First things first: while in November 2016, as many as 85% Indians believed that the troubles they faced during demonetisation were absolutely worth the fight against black money. As of today that number has come crashing down to just 63%. That's a huge drop of 22% in support for the drastic move within a gap of 24 months.

While this number could fancy any Modi-baiter to say that the public has finally said what it wanted to say, it is equally important to note that even after so much of hardship and shine coming off the (mis)adventure, two out of three Indians still support demonetisation as of today. Yes, this is down from four out of five in 2016, but 2 out of 3 is not small a number. Certainly, in a FPTP democracy where Parties tend to get a majority with just over 33% votes this figure matters.

However, this statement becomes interesting in light of 43% Indians considering it a personal setback. Why does demonetisation still enjoy public support of a two-third majority despite negatively impacting more people? Seems PM Modi has hijacked the narrative on the debate on 'national interest'.

If that is true, one probability can be that a large part of populace is struck with Stockholm Syndrome. They are in awe of the government taking such a drastic measure and pulling it off in no time. Hence, they seek to be on the side of their tormentor and sympathize with the mission of cash eradication!

The other probability is of stigmatisation of criticism. Prime Minister Modi in his rallies has repeatedly stated that "those hurt the most, are crying out the loudest". In other words, the critics of the policy are the ones who were hoarding the money in cash and now they were trying to vent their frustration. Thus, people could go in a spiral of silence and give socially acceptable replies when asked survey questions. If it is the former than electoral advantage will lie with the NDA but if it is the latter case, then it is advantage opposition.

Demonetisation as a policy move is akin to major surgery of the body - it has beneficial impacts and side-effects that become apparent over time. When this policy was implemented in 2016, there were two questions lingering in public discourse:
     a) What will be the actual impacts of this move on nation, in the long run?
     b) How will people perceive the move today and tomorrow, given that this move was bound to generate some pain?

At Cvoter, we have tracked the public sentiment on this important issue since 2016 and have concluded the 7th wave of demonetisation tracker.

Time has tempered the support and positive sentiment enjoyed by demonetisation. Demographic groups like middle-aged citizens, rural populace and poor have begun to wonder about the move. Although net sentiment among the population is positive, the shrinkage of support for demonetisation is consistent and an ongoing trend.

To answer the questions asked above:
     a) People largely view demonetisation as a positive move and support its implementation, however there is a distinct decline in the number of people doing so.
     b) Increasing number of citizens have begun to view demonetisation as a negative event. Especially the fence sitters have begun to migrate towards the negative territory. In other words, former supporters are turning into critics and former neutrals are also turning critical regarding demonetisation. 

The Demonetisation Tracker details stand unpacked as follows:

Demonetisation at a personal level

Treating of demonetisation as a setback at personal level, the support for demonetisation has now fallen to its lowest level of 56.5% in wave 7 after an all-time high of 76% in wave 2. The positive sentiment for demonetisation hovered in the early 70s through wave 3-5. From wave 6 onwards there has been a stark decline in support for demonetisation. Perhaps indicative of headwinds in local economy or a brewing unemployment crisis, post-facto people have begun to increasingly identify demonetisation as a personal setback of sorts. Semi-urban population and middle-aged citizens are two demographic segments who are more negative in their sentiments towards demonetisation.

Worth it?

An exercise like demonetisation was fraught with troubles for common citizens. It was the goodwill of the Union government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi that carried the day in 2016. Today, the net sentiment of demonetisation being worth it has touched an all-time low of 30%. Meaning, the difference between the yay-sayers and nay-sayers is down to just 30% in wave 7, this figure was 82% in wave 2. Somewhere, we have seen more and more people defecting from the yay camp to nay camp between wave 2 and wave 7. Senior citizens are still mostly in favour of the policy at a net sentiment of 54% while middle-aged citizens are the least supportive, with a net sentiment of 17%. Also, worth mentioning are the middle-income group and rural citizens with respective net sentiments of 22% and 26.7%. These voters are high on priority for PM Modi and disaffection among them should be a cause of concern.

Was the implementation sound?

While economists and intelligentsia were in a different mood with respect to implementation of demonetisation in 2016, they were pushed back by a solid 85% of Indians who believed that demonetisation was implemented in a satisfactory to good manner. Today, the number of those with positive sentiment has not exactly crashed in wave 7, a 66% positive sentiment still constitutes a significant decline. In other words, from more than 4 out of 5 Indian finding the implementation satisfactory, today only 2 out of 3 support its implementation mechanism. Freshers (those below 35 years of age) are more satisfied with the implementation at 72% approval while higher income group is least positive and understandably so.

How about a rollback?

India has a history of governments backtracking on unpopular policies or reforms, therefore demonetisation was considered fit for a rollback by some sections. The support for a rollback has increased between 2016-18, although the majority still supports no-rollback or backtracking. Nearly 63% respondents support staying firm on the policy while 33% supported a rollback either in practice or principle. The support for staying firm is down from 84% in 2016 a significant decline. Major declines have happened in the middle aged and lower income group demographics.

Who was hurt more, rich or the poor?

Politically, demonetisation was a safe policy as it hurt the proverbial 'haves' of a corrupt system. Surprisingly, while perception of demonetisation has shifted across the board on this metric, the perception of demonetisation has remained largely stable. 48.5% believe that demonetisation has hit the poor more, while 35.5% believe that rich were hurt more. Despite apparent stability, it is worth noting that poor continue to believe that they sacrificed more for implementation of this policy measure. Therefore, they may seek more political entitlement and an absence of such measure may trigger discontent against the government.

Does living through demonetisation change your views?

Fewer respondents (44%) supported demonetisation after having experienced it in 2016. In 2018, 59% people supported demonetisation having experienced the aftermath. However, the people who oppose it and intend to punish BJP by voting against it have risen from 13% in 2016 to 20% in 2018. Politically, this signifies a deep and rising polarisation over the question of demonetisation - supporters and detractors are firming up their positions.

The aftershocks of demonetisation?

A majority 51% people say that there is no persistent problem post-demonetisation in 2018, a huge rise when compared to 11% in 2016. This is a heartening statistic for the government as it signifies that there are fewer long-term implications of demonetisation on citizens and some of the anger on ground is indicative of the memory of instantaneous events in 2016. The only statistic of concern is 18.5% respondents saying that their problems have increased - this is a rise over the 12.3% in 2016. 

Prime Minister's popularity?

Demonetisation left 17% of population in limbo and they professed no opinion in 2016 on its impact on PM Modi's popularity. Worryingly for the PM, roughly 13% of these have migrated to the decreased popularity column by 2018. The column for respondents who thought this might result in increased popularity has undergone a mild decline from 52% in 2016 to 49% in 2018. Although PM Modi's stock remains high, the high conversion rate of neutrals to critics is a cause of concern. Perhaps the loyalists have stuck it out with the PM but the fence sitters are choosing otherwise.

Sentiment on economy?

The dominant and almost-majority sentiment of respondents in 2016 predicted a recovery after short term blip for the economy. 49.% respondents averred that economy may dip for a while and then recover strongly. This sentiment has crashed down to 29.5% now, whereas the bearish sentiment of a long-lasting recession has strengthened from 12% in 2016 to 28% in 2018. Interestingly, the bullish sentiment has also strengthened from 19.5% in 2016 to 29% in 2018. This is yet another indicator of deep vertical divide that come to occupy Indian polity in all matters of national discourse.

Conclusion: Good idea or bad idea?

In 2016, 27% respondents thought that demonetisation was a good step but poorly implemented. This figure declined to 17% by 2018 and most of the migration of opinion occurred towards the option of "bad step which is poorly implemented". The respondents who believed in it rose from 5% in 2016 to 28.5% in 2018, this indicates yet again the trend of fence sitters migrating towards the critics' category. The supporters of the demonetisation in toto declined from 66% in 2016 to 51% in 2018. In other words, demonetisation has lost supporters and managed to drive the fence sitters away, something somewhere has not clicked with sections of society. Although the net sentiment continues to be positive, the presence of pain in politically significant sections of society is undeniable and salient. Whether that will have mild or huge impact on upcoming Lok Sabha election 2019 is a matter of conjecture.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)