Exit polls are good for entertainment, take it with a bucket full of salt!

A tongue-in-cheek tweet on Sunday asked people to add 25% to the figures Exit Polls give to the opposition and deduct 40% from number credited to ruling alliance to arrive at a more realistic figure

Exit polls are good for entertainment, take it with a bucket full of salt!

Uttam Sengupta

What purpose do exit polls serve? The answer is available in the large hoardings announcing the polls that dot the cityscape. Television channels, often backed by corporate houses and political parties and leaders, spend a minor fortune on putting up the show. And they are motivated by business interests, the eyeballs they can gather and the advertisement revenue they can collect. Otherwise, TV channels and media houses, which are tight-fisted in allowing expenses for new gathering, would not be so generous to blow up huge sums for four hours of mostly sound and fury, signifying nothing.

With the official results expected in four days’ time, there is no real purpose that exit polls play in informing people. But they hugely abet betting and the share market, speculation and also serve a certain political purpose. As expressed by many observers on Sunday evening after the exit polls, the purpose this time appeared to be to demoralize the opposition, throw them into utter confusion and prevent them from reaching an understanding before the official results are declared.

Exit Polls, 80% of which after 2014 are said to have been wrong, may also be right. But without even stepping out of Delhi this time, I calculated that the Bharatiya Janata Party could win a minimum of 148 seats and a maximum of 222 seats in this election. I relied upon reports I read, the buzz on social media, past trends and some common sense.

I reasoned that unlike 2014 there was no Modi wave this time and Mr Modi’s popularity in 2019, judging by jokes, cartoons, memes and tongue-in-cheek comments on Twitter, in 2019 is nowhere close to what he enjoyed in 2014. It was also obvious that the opposition was far better prepared and far more united this time than five years ago. I took into account the discontent in rural India—manifested in farmers’ suicide, farmers throwing their produce on the street because of low prices and the marches they have repeatedly taken out to vent their frustration.

I could sense the fear that people even in urban areas felt in voicing dissenting opinion. Stray conversations with helping hands, plumbers, taxi drivers and strangers indicated a level of hopelessness that squared with the bleak and grim picture of the economy that one read about. One could sense the disquiet in the South about Mr Modi and the BJP and while one had no way to prove it, I reasoned that the enormous war chest that the BJP flaunted could be a double-edged sword.

It has been no secret that BJP has been splurging money. It has not only bought land in every district of India and built offices in some or most of them, it spent enormous amounts of money in organizing rallies, road shows, in publicity and in paying volunteers and on logistics. But it could not have satisfied everyone or employed every unemployed young man in villages. It stood to reason that if it won over 10% of the youth with jobs, contracts, deals and payment, the other 90% would be very, very angry.

So, I reasoned that BJP and Mr Modi cannot possibly repeat their magic of 2014. Failed promises, Demonetisation, loss of jobs and economic slowdown would surely have hurt most people?

But exit polls suggest the opposite. That nothing really mattered. That people were swayed more by surgical strikes and nationalism than bread and butter issues. That they did not mind that BJP had nothing to say about the performance of the Modi Government, did not talk about their manifesto or what they planned to do in the next five years. That they trusted only one leader, believed he is the only one to ensure a strong and stable government at the Centre etc. and hence voted for the BJP.

But how credible are these exit polls? Even Axis, which claims to have done door-to-door surveys, confesses that their surveyors have often been beaten up or taken to police stations, that people are suspicious and do not want to talk about their voting preference or behavior. It also confesses that it has political parties as its clients. But it claims to collect authentic data to predict the result of a complex election.

A friend, I saw late on Sunday evening, had put up this post:

“I was speaking to a very senior and experienced journalist who is not a part of the media circus. He has been on the ground, meeting people, mingling with them and getting them to talk their opinion by being one amongst them. And he has a dramatically opposite view then mainstream media.”

“He says that when people are approached with 'TV cameras, Boom Mics and chaperons', their opinions are opposite to what they will actually do. He has been to exactly the same villages that NDTV had been to, which favoured BJP but got a opposite response from people to what NDTV reported.”

“He says that the undercurrent is strongly against Modi as people suffered with a failed economy, jobs, farm distress, DeMo and GST. He says the exit polls this time would be dramatically different from actual results as fear and a vociferous bunch of Modi supporters would have influenced the exit polls. Jingoism by nature is loud, but suffering is silent and hits when the time comes.”

So, will the silent voter strike on May 23 ? I will not be surprised if they do.

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