I usually refrain from writing on politics, but this is about as politically close as I can get so I’ll keep it short. Not because I’m indifferent to whatever the hell is going in politics, as that would be irresponsible of me. Not even because I may not be fond of politics but because I am so fascinated by the vagaries and dynamics of it that I haven’t yet come around to being able to form an opinion on it. But talking of opinions, the recent indicative ‘Mood of the Nation Opinion’ poll conducted by India Today was out sometime back, and it showed that if the general elections were held today then, the ruling party shall emerge victorious, again, despite everything that has happened and that too with a thumping majority still. At the outset, I would like to say, that neither am I a ruling party supporter nor am I an opposition party follower (if any exists as of date). Further, I have never been a big fan of opinion polls either however it so happens that this recent one helps me drive home some interesting points. But before I get to that, to put things in context, here are some salient features of the poll that in a way brings out the current mood of the nation –
15% of respondents think that handling of covid by the govt is its third-biggest achievement, after Ram Mandir (27%) and Abrogation of Article 370 (20%). However, 91% of all the respondents feel that the handling of covid by the govt has been either good or outstanding.
87% of respondents say that handling of the economy by the govt has been good and outstanding. Despite that, 66% of respondents say that they have suffered some form of income loss. Moreover, the poll goes on to highlight that 1 out of every 5 Indians suffered a job loss.
38% of the respondents still want our existing PM as PM the next time also. This is ironically higher than the 37% vote share of respondents that voted for BJP in the poll.
Mind you, the poll sample included people who are workers, businessmen, salaried, and pretty much from all walks of life. Despite all the above ironies and contradictions, the mood is overwhelmingly in favor of our current PM and the current ruling party. Despite demonetization, a horrific GST implementation, a declining economy, migrant crisis, job losses, income losses, rising unemployment, and business closures, the mood of the nation is still favorable.
I have nothing against anyone but the first interesting point to note is that - the tendency to like (or dislike) everything about a person i.e. whether he does bad (or good) including the things you may or may not have a clue about – is what has come to be known as a halo effect. If you like the politician’s politics, you’d probably like the way he or she speaks, behaves, or dresses up. The halo effect makes the converse also true. If you like the politician’s voice, the way he or she speaks and conducts, chances are you’d like the politician’s politics also.
Whereas one might applaud the “defeating covid” claim, the stupidity of demonetization has been discounted. Whereas the ‘Atma-nirbharta’ claim stands tall, the fact that the economy has been declining has been long forgotten. Whereas the tenacity of the stand against China is laudable the rising unemployment has been overlooked. Whereas the reformatory farm bills are praiseworthy, the migrant crisis has been ctrl-alt-deleted from our minds.
But the halos work on the negative side of the spectrum also. If you don’t like the way a politician speaks or conducts, in all probability, you will be prejudiced adversely on his politics. The demeanor of the politician may even Trump his good policies (if any)!
This halo is not confined to politics only but also plays a significant role in our lives, in shaping our views about a person or a situation. If you like the looks of a celebrity actor, you are likely to rate him better as an actor. If you think a cricketer is cute and athletic, you are likely to rate him better as a batsman/bowler too. If you like the person’s looks you would most probably overrate his potential. However, if you met a person who appears un-presentable to you, chances are you would underrate his potential.
The second interesting point to note is that, in addition to the power of halos, statistics also show that the short-term approval ratings go up for politicians during a crisis, irrespective of how the crisis was (or is) managed, or whatever mismanagement was done before the crisis. The pre-crisis defects may have gotten wiped out from the minds of the people or forgotten because during or post-crisis, the powerful halos surrounding the leader played out and the value that is attached to that leadership during the crisis may have made people give the ‘benefit of the doubt’ to the leader. The poll has just gone on to show that in the time of this great crisis, the true value of a leader was not dependent on what he does or did but the actions were out-shone by his simple ability to only maintain the ‘all-things-are-under-control’ facade, and that may have worked in favor of the leader’s image.
Leo Tolstoy claimed in his masterful War and Peace that -
"In quiet and untroubled times it seems to every administrator that it is only by his efforts that the whole population under his rule is kept going, and in this consciousness of being indispensable every administrator finds the chief reward of his labor and efforts. While the sea of history remains calm the ruler-administrator in his frail bark, holding on with a boat hook to the ship of the people and himself moving, naturally imagines that his efforts move the ship he is holding on to.
But as soon as a storm arises and the sea begins to heave and the ship to move, such a delusion is no longer possible. The ship moves independently with its own enormous motion, the boat hook no longer reaches the moving vessel, and suddenly the administrator, instead of appearing a ruler and a source of power, becomes an insignificant, useless, feeble man.”
But the halo surrounding our leader has flipped the badass Tolstoy’s argument on its head. To paraphrase it, obviously in my own words, in my own feeble-minded way, tweaking some words here and there -
"In tumultuous and troubled times it seems to everyone that it is only by leader’s efforts that the whole population under his rule is kept going, and in this consciousness of being indispensable every leader finds the chief reward of his labor and efforts. While the sea of history remains stormy the leader in his solid bark, holding on with a boat hook to the ship of the people and himself moving, naturally imagines that his efforts move the ship he is holding on to.
But even after the storm has passed and the rage of the sea has subsided on the ship, the delusion gets magnified. The ship even though may move independently with its own inertia, and the boat hook may no longer reach the moving vessel, the leader suddenly is perceived to be an even greater source of power, even more, significant and a much-needed, stronger man.”