Exit polls: Bull’s Eye, or Fool’s Paradise?

The most notable trends in exit polls on the 5 state assembly elections released on Thursday have been the SAD-BJP being trounced in Punjab, and BJP emerging as single largest party in Uttar Pradesh

Photo by Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

NH Political Bureau

A caveat first. Post-poll surveys are notorious for being off-the-mark in recent times, especially when the fight is close. In the 2014 general elections, most didn't see BJP getting a majority on its own; in Delhi assembly elections thereafter, no one saw the AAP getting such a brute majority, nor did most see the 'Mahagatbandan' of RLD-JD(U)-Congress cruising through so comfortably. Still, checking the post-poll survey numbers is an interesting time-pass till the actual counting takes place, in the present case on March 11.

Among these various exit polls for the five states that went to polls in February and March, the most conspicuous trends has been on the SAD- BJP being trounced in Punjab with AAP making an impressive debut; and, the BJP emerging as the single largest party in Uttar Pradesh. Everything else has been patchy.

Different pollsters either have a very contrasting prediction on who will form a government, or the fight is so intense that they simply give an equal chance to two parties.

In Punjab, the toss-up has been between Congress and AAP—and that has been known to all political observers even without any survey. Aaj Tak- Axis My survey calls it clearly for Congress; India TV-C voter calls it for AAP, while Today's Chanakya - News24 gives both these parties an equal chance of forming the government. Now, that doesn't make anyone any the wiser. Certainly the exact hold of AAP in the Malwa region, and what best the Congress could wrest here, would decide who forms the government. We didn’t need the exit poll to tell us that, either.

Uttar Pradesh gets very exciting. Today's Chanakya was perhaps the only agency in 2014 to predict that BJP would get more than 70 seats in the state in 2014—at a time when even Amit Shah thought his party would get only around 50 seats. In 2017, it gives the BJP a massive majority, at around 285 seats, with the SP-Congress alliance being a distant second. So does Aaj Tak-Axis My survey. On the other hand, India TV-Cvoter predicts a hung assembly, with BJP and the Alliance emerging in the top two spots respectively, but with not too big a difference between them. NewsX-MRC poll, though, gives BJP around 185 seats, the SP-Congress 120 and the BSP 90—actually the only survey to give Mayawati's party so many seats.

In Uttarakhand, C-Voter gives both the BJP and the Congress equal chances, with the former doing well in the Garhwal region and the latter in the Kumaon region. That may not be a surprise if one factors in the rebellion in the BJP ranks. However, both Axis and Chanakya give the BJP an emphatic victory.

In Goa, C-Voter and Axis say BJP would emerge the single largest party with the possibility of forming a government by itself. In Manipur, Axis calls it for Congress.

It would be interesting to see which exit poll hits close to the bull's-eye on March 11. And which pollsters would be made fools of by the voters.

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