Exit polls do serve a purpose!

Since 2014, exit polls on state assembly elections have got it wrong 85% of the times. Questions have been raised about their utility but they clearly cannot be banned

Exit polls do serve a purpose!
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AJ Prabal

Exit polls on March 7, around 60 hours before the actual counting of votes were to start, would have confused people. There were too many of them with too many possibilities, caveats, margins of error and disclaimers of how close the contests were and how difficult it was to predict.

So, why make them at all? Especially since the actual results would be out barely two days later?

Exit polls in a country is difficult to conduct in a country where fear often rules, where voters are threatened to vote for a particular party or face the consequences (ECI of course has no responsibility in the matter) and where smart voters cast their votes for one party and, when asked outside the booth, claim to have voted for another.

Every passing election, exit polls are becoming more divorced from reality. This week the India Today-Axis opinion poll forecast that BJP would sweep the election in Uttar Pradesh and bag 307 of the 403 seats. If the result vindicates the poll (this is being written two days before the counting of votes), what would it mean?

It will mean that electoral victories can be assured despite run away inflation, rampant unemployment, anger among farmers due to stray cattle destroying crops, Covid mismanagement etc. It will also mean that BJP MLAs asking for forgiveness, holding their ears in public and berating people for betraying them—and there are viral videos showing them do it—did not indicate BJP’s unease with people or people’s unease with the BJP. It will mean that the upsurge of support for SP and Akhilesh Yadav, and the large, enthusiastic crowds that thronged roadshows and rallies of Priyanka Gandhi and Mayawati, meant for nothing.

It will also raise doubts about the integrity of the electoral process, about manipulation of the EVM etc.

Indeed, the exit polls, suggest poll pundits, would have energized counting agents and workers of the BJP and demoralized the others. They would also put psychological pressure on officials supervising the counting. The polls would auto-suggest the inevitability of a BJP win, making it easier for officials to order re-counts and award close contests to the BJP.

For that reason alone, perhaps, exit polls should be banned. If they cannot be banned, the ECI can ensure that such polls be recorded a day before the counting and aired for an hour or two in the morning of counting, after the counting of votes start. This will enable people to compare the forecasts in real time with the result and also minimize the scope for manipulations.


But it is unlikely that exit polls will be banned. There is too much at stake. The thriving business of pollsters, sponsorships, media spend by political parties, the economic health of TV channels and their TRP ratings are all involved.

Who will bell the cat? Meanwhile, it is good entertainment for poll junkies and takes care of an evening well spent.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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