Flawed System of Exit Polls
Once again poll-forecasters got it wrong. Almost every Exit Poll conducted in Bihar had predicted an absolute majority for Mahagatbandhan. But the final outcome was just the opposite. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) managed to retain power in the eastern state. Talks of anti-incumbency, caste arithmetic, good governance, etc. which were being cited in support of those predictions, came to naught. Quite amazingly, it was not the first time that poll predictions regarding Bihar proved to be wrong. During the earlier two Assembly elections too, prediction of exit polls were incorrect. In 2010, NDA won 206 seats instead of maximum 185 seats as predicted. In 2015, exit polls predicted a hung Assembly. But in the end, it was a landslide victory for Mahagatbandhan. Thus, Bihar has remained a weak spot for psephologists.
Not only in Bihar, but also all over the country, be it opinion polls of exit polls, many have proved to be incorrect more often than not. The classic example was the 2004 General elections. Every single pre-poll or post-poll forecast predicted a victory for NDA. It appeared that the poll forecasters were more influenced by BJP’s ‘Shining India’ campaign than the voters. So, the Congress-led UPA finished with 222 seats and formed the government. Further, if one is interested in looking beyond India, the fact remains that in the last two Presidential elections, American pollsters also proved to be incorrect.
Yet, such polls have become fashionable these days. Before every election, both electronic and print media conduct such polls either to increase TRPs or circulation. If the predictions are somewhere near the final poll outcome, celebrations become louder; but no regret or corrigendum is issued when the prediction goes wrong. There are also allegations that such polls are often rigged. It is done to favour a particular political party or candidate. The incident which comes to mind in this regard is the claim of victory of a particular political party citing the pre-poll survey of an internationally reputed firm. But within 24 hours, the firm issued a rejoinder that it had not conducted any poll survey in India. There are many such instances where people with vested interests attempt to take undue advantage by making false propaganda. In some cases, such mala fide intentions were proven too. But strangely, no action has been taken against those who tried to manipulate the preferences of the electorate.
So, time has come now to decide about the continuance of opinion and exit polls due to poor strike rates and misuse. We should not forget that democracy becomes stronger only when the electorate can express their preferences in a free and fair manner. Any attempt to undermine the primary condition of democracy should be dealt with firmly. Curb on such polls should not be treated as an intrusion to personal freedom. Furthermore, India is a country of diversity. Here, a miniscule sample can’t predict the mood of the nation correctly. Rather, it will encourage fraudulent activities. Will the Election Commission of India seriously consider the usefulness of such polls?