Decoding exit polls

Kashmir Times. Dated: 5/21/2019 2:06:08 PM

Most predictions in recent years have proved to be contrary

The Indian stock markets rose sharply between 3 and 5 percent, making investors richer, as soon as the various exit polls gave the BJP a clear majority four days before the election results. Whether the exit polls are inspired by any economic model, their accuracy has by and large failed the litmus test, as recent examples world over have seen. Far from being an exact indication of what lies in store ahead, they have proven to be absolutely contradictory to the final results. The exit polls are a huge contrast from the poll predictions by many analysts including those with an ear to the ground. In more than 50 percent cases, the exit polls have been different from the actual results worldwide. India is no exception. Exit polls are media events world over and are not credible yardsticks of the outcome of elections. They got it completely wrong in Australia few days ago. Australia has 22 million voters and a bipolar polity as compared to India's and its multi-party political system. The diversity and heterogeneity of India's polity makes it even more difficult to predict the course of polls. Needless to forget that in recent years, several assembly polls including Bihar, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh went completely off the mark. The inaccuracy is more likely in a larger sample like the Lok Sabha polls where exit poll predictions have mostly gone haywire. In 2004, the polls certainly got it spectacularly wrong predicting an NDA win. The bias was clearly in favour of the then ruling party. In 2009, again the UPA was under-estimated by the exit polls even though it was in power. In 2014, the exit polls got the trend right but not the extent of the Modi wave, which went much beyond the predictions of the pollsters. In 2 of the Lok Sabha elections in the last two decades, the exit polls have completely got the direction wrong.
Essentially, there doesn't seem to be much of a pattern on all the inaccurate exit polls but it appears that they have a track record of underplaying the Congress-led alliance as compared to the BJP. Interestingly, however, despite a wide variety of exit polls, the direction and mood they predict is in the same direction, putting a question mark on the veracity and credibility of the exercise and raising queries about their very purpose. In countries like USA and Britain, the counting begins within hours of completion of poll process and due to this the exit polls have been completely eliminated. The 2019 polls were a long drawn battle spread over two months, making exit polls even more futile an exercise. Not only is the utility of the exit polls questionable, their role in promoting a culture of horse-trading and creating confusion in the minds of the voters cannot be ruled out. Strangely, while the EVMs were expected to make polling process less cumbersome, election period in India has increased. Three decades ago, polling used to happen across the country in a single day. There is need to go back to the system and eliminate the long drawn electoral battle that keeps the entire nation on tenterhooks and impedes governance, business, education and every aspect of life. Quickly held elections would also eliminate the exit poll hungama and to a large extent lay to rest apprehensions of tampering of EVMs. The only purpose that the exit polls so far have performed is to boost up the stock market but the confusion they create is too huge a price. Besides, the often misplaced advantage they give to some political players to dabble in dirty politics is something that goes against the interests of democratic values and politics. As India awaits May 23 when the final counting begins, right now it may be a case of counting chickens before they hatch.



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