Opinion polls do often suspiciously look like paid attempts to influence opinion. During the Uttar Pradesh election earlier this year, Hindi daily newspaper Jagran had published a poll in violation of ECI guidelines.
But while the digital editor of the newspaper was shown the door, no further detail has emerged about the role money may have played in the transgression. “Opinion and exit polls by themselves, like all research, are useful to gain insight into what people think of the policies, programmes and products. But the Election Commission opposes these polls because it strongly suspects their integrity, having encountered the ugly reality of ‘paid news’…” wrote in February the former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi.
Even Yogendra Yadav, who was against banning opinion polls, has spoken in favour of self-regulation by pollsters and media organisations. While exit polls were banned in India in 2008, in the garb of opinion polls they continue to influence at least some sections of the electorate. While it is true that in most democracies, both exit polls and opinion polls are common enough, there are several countries in which they are prohibited from two days to 21 days before polling. Such restrictions are in place in Canada, France, Italy, Brazil and Argentina, to name a few of them.
While the Law Commission in its report in 2015 recommended a ban on opinion polls related to elections, the Election Commission of India too has advocated suitable amendments in section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to regulate opinion polls. Among other things, the Election Commission of India (ECI) had recommended: Name of the sponsor of the survey must be broadcast with the results. Name of the person and organisation which conducted the survey must be revealed. Details of the population from which the sample was drawn. The number of people who were contacted to participate in the survey. The margin of error in respect of the data obtained. The report to be posted on website within 24 hours of broadcast. The report to include dates and time of interviews, people who refused to participate, method used to calculate data, weightages, wording of the questions in the survey.