A report published on Wednesday by the US-based Pew Research Center showed that 63 per cent of interviewees named the BJP, against only 19 per cent who chose Congress, when asked which party they would like to see run the next Indian government.
Mr Modi was viewed favourably (in most cases very favourably) by 78 per cent of respondents, while only 51 per cent had even a mildly favourable view of Rahul Gandhi, his Congress rival.
“By a margin of better than two-to-one, the public says the BJP would do a better job on each of a half-dozen challenges facing the nation, from combating corruption to fighting terrorism,” said the Pew report, entitled “Indians want political change”.
Researchers held face-to-face interviews with 2,464 randomly selected adults in the five weeks to January 12, which suggests they missed at least part of the effect of the brief rise to power in the state of Delhi this year of the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi (Common Man) party.
Some commentators say AAP candidates in the general election could damage Mr Modi’s chances of becoming prime minister by depriving the BJP of “anti-incumbency” votes from Indians dissatisfied with 10 years of Congress-led coalition government.
Nor is it clear to what extent the BJP can translate the nationwide support for Mr Modi seen in opinion polls into parliamentary seats, especially in areas of the south and east where it has little party machinery. India has a UK-style “first-past-the-post” democratic system based on geographical constituencies in which the popularity of local candidates can be as important as the parties to which they belong.
The latest poll nevertheless shows strong support for the BJP, especially in the heavily populated and politically important states of north India such as Uttar Pradesh. The Pew report said “backing for the BJP is roughly equal in both rural and urban areas despite Congress’s deep roots in rural India and its efforts to cement rural political support through employment and food security programmes”.
Another poll published recently – the CNN-IBN survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies – showed that 33.7 per cent of respondents favoured Mr Modi as the post-election prime minister, more than double the 15.2 per cent backing Mr Gandhi.
In terms of voting intentions – something not measured directly by the Pew report – 31.8 per cent said they would vote for the BJP, while 25.3 per cent opted for Congress.