PAKISTANI voters appear divided on who to vote for in the upcoming elections and which issues are most critical for the country, according to the Political Barometer, an opinion survey conducted by the Herald in partnership with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).

The survey engaged 1,283 respondents in 54 districts across Pakistan.

Of those who said they had registered for the upcoming elections and indicated a party preference, 29 per cent said they would vote for the PPP, 25 per cent support the PML-N and 20 per cent plan to vote for the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI).

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Mind the generation gap

Dispelling the notion that the PTI's vote bank is concentrated in younger generations, survey findings indicatethat the party derives support from all ages.

While 23 per cent of those in the 18-to-35 age group said they would vote for the PTI, approximately 19pc of those aged between 36 and 70 claimed the same.

A plurality (33pc) of those aged 36 to 50 support the PPP. Forty-six per cent of those over 70 prefer the PML-N.

Respondents were also asked who they have voted for most frequently in the past. Looking at these voting histories, the PML-N's vote bank appears to have remained stable while the PPP's seems to have declined significantly.

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The ethnic vote

In line with expectations, 55pc of those who identified themselves as Sindhis said they would vote for the rulingparty in the upcoming elections.

Forty-four per cent of Hindko speakers intend to vote for the PML-N. The same proportion supports the PTI, suggesting a close contest between the two parties within that demographic.

And while 34pc of Pakhtuns are infavour of the PTI, only 11pc said they would vote for the Awami National Party (ANP).

Money matters

In keeping with the PPP's pro-poor image, approximately a third of those with a monthly family income of up to Rs30,000 plan to vote for the party. Support drops to 11pc among higher income brackets.

The majority of those earning more than Rs250,000 intend to vote for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement(MQM) or the PTI (33pc each).

While this figure may appear anomalistic in the MQM's case support forthe party within the secondhighest income bracket was only 4pc it was possible to identify a rough direct trend between level of income and support for the PTI.

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It's the issues, stupid

From a given list, respondents identified poverty, corruption, the energy crisis, illiteracy and extremism as the top five issues the country faces today.

No issue received more than 17pc of the vote, indicating an electorate with varying priorities.Paradoxically, 27pc of respondents higher than for any other party said the PPP would be most effective in addressing the identified issues, even though 59pc rated the current government's performance as 'poor' or 'very poor'.

Those with higher incomes appeared most unhappy with the current government a surprising conclusion given that of the top five identified issues, at least two are of greater direct concern to lowincome respondents.

Dissatisfaction also roseslightly with increasing education levels and among urban respondents.

Getting out the vote Approximately 21pc of respondents admitted to never having voted before.

There appears to be anegative correlation between inclination to vote and income level: 38pc of those with monthly family incomes above Rs250,000 had never voted, compared to 13pc of those in the earning less than Rs3,600, the lowestincome bracket.

Despite this, those in the highest income bracket were most likely (at 38pc) to have been members of political parties.

And contrary to the notion that more education might equal greater political participation, 87pc of those with no education claimed to have voted in three or more elections while only 38pc of those with at least a bachelor's degree had done so.

Ninety-four per cent of respondents did say, though, that they were registered to vote in the upcoming elections.

But from a closely contested playing field, who will emerge at the helm of the incoming government? Three scenarios According to Dr Abid Suleri, executive director of the SDPI, the outcome of the elections could unfold in a number of ways.

Scenario one: the PPP forms an electoral alliance with its current allies, the ANP, the MQM and the PML-Q.

A grand anti-PPP alliance, comprising the PML-N, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and the Jamaat-iIslami (JI), but not the PTI, simultaneously takes shape.Based on the findings of this survey, the PPP and its allies would be able to secure 38pc of the vote. The anti-PPP alliance could secure 30pc.

Along with the PTI, it could give the PPP a difficult time in parliament.

Scenario two: the PPP forms a partnership with its current allies except the MQM, which opts for the antiPPP alliance.

Here too, the PTI chooses to remain alone.

In this case the PPP and its allies would likely capture 34pc of the vote, with theopposing alliance securing a similar percentage.

The minority government in this instance would be weaker than in the first scenario, with a more formidable opposition.

Scenario three: the PPP forms an alliance with its current allies, the PTI teams up with the JI, and the PML-N forms an alliance with the JUI-F and other anti-PPP parties.

In this instance, the PPP and its allies would receive 38pc of the vote, the PML-N team would receive 26pc andthe PTI-JI pairing would capture 24pc.

Verdict

Given the widely varying voting patterns across constituencies, the actual outcome could be entirely different from those described above.

It is evident, though, that no single party currently stands to sweep the upcoming polls.

It also appears that the PPP will have to retain its current allies to maintain political clout, and that, amidst the traditional PPP-PML-N toss-up,the PTI is emerging as a political reality.Whoever does manage to form the next government will most likely have to contend with a strong opposition.

And if the Political Barometer's findings are any indication, that government might also find it difficult to determine which issues to tackle first to soothe an electorate clamouring for change.

Full results of the survey can be found in a supplement distributed alongside the Herald's February issue

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