Fallacies of Indian Exit Polls
Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu was right in saying that ‘exit polls do not mean exact polls.’ But quite unfortunately no one will pay any heed to his observations. Rather, next time when we will face another election, surely there will be many more organisations to conduct exit polls. All these polls will be aired giving birth to a lot of speculations which are not really healthy signs for a democracy.
The concept of opinion polls or exit polls are rather new in India. Within two decades of making inroads in the country, such polls have almost become an industry. Now, for every topic, one organisation or the other has conducted a survey and come out with its findings. The findings are often misleading; sometimes damaging for the society too. For example, the stock market rose to a record high on Monday following the exit poll predictions on Sunday, and then saw the fall of the same the following day. Yet, the polls are still on going.
How far such polls can affect the outcome of elections can be judged from the fact that after completion of a couple of phases during general elections 2004, a leading daily conducted an exit poll and predicted that chances of BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) returning to power were slim, though general perception was different. After the publication of the said exit poll, NDA’s fortune took a turn for the worse and it was dethroned. After a few years just the opposite happened in Uttar Pradesh. Exit polls in between phases predicted win for BSP, which definitely attracted the fence sitters towards the party as Mayawati rode to power with record number of seats. Menace of exit polls became so rampant that Election Commission had to end the practice of publishing the results of exit polls after every phase.
Everyone knows that unlike smaller western countries, exit polls in India can never be a successful experiment because of its vastness, diversity and the sheer number of electorates. No pollsters have enough resources to reach even 10 percent of total booths in the country. Yet, the pollsters are proudly predicting which way the wind will blow once the EVMs are open. The most glaring example of such myopic predictions came to light on Sunday last when a news channel predicted that Aam Admi Party (AAP) would get 2.5 per cent vote in Uttarakahnd. The fact remains that the party had not put up a single candidate in the state. An embarrassed news channel withdrew its forecast after being criticised hugely from all quarters, but by that time the ignorance of our so called pollsters had come to light.
To conduct exit polls properly in India, the first step should be ensuring that surveyors reach maximum number of booths possible. Secondly, they should be well aware about the ground realities of each constituency and the region they are visiting. Often it has been found that India does not vote in unison. The fact was best highlighted during 1977 general elections. While the Congress got routed in North, South and Eastern India because of excesses during emergency, South India stood firmly with the grand old party. So knowing the preferences of Indian electorate is not an easy job. Rather it will be wise to wait till the last vote is counted.