So it is that once-in-five-years time, again when the political system of our country is gearing up for a major make-over. People too have made their choices and are in the process of realizing them through their votes. Observers and the so called ‘’fly on the walls’’ surmise that the 16th Lok Sabha elections will be a tide turner for the largest democracy in the world. What makes them say so? Is it only their affiliations towards parties that are at work here or is it something beyond all that?
To a great extent, the process of Exit Polls have manipulated such conjectures. Much debates and discussions have been made regarding the ‘triangular contest’ between debutant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Congress and the Bhartiya Janta Party. And a large chunk of these exchange of words are influenced, sadly I must say, by the mechanism of Exit Polls.
Skepticism associated with Exit Polls
The media’s Yellow Journalism effect has been quite devastating in the formation of public opinion, especially during the time of elections. Demoralization of political parties, by party-sponsored media, has many a times, turned election results in favour of its propagators. One of the mechanisms used here is that of conducting Exit Poll surveys. Irrational speculations, often leading to jumping the guns on the part of journalists can mean catastrophic outcomes for the parties targeted. The “politically inspired” argument against Exit Polls cannot be brushed aside too.
Another discrepancy is associated with the non-adherence to Representation of Peoples (Ammendment) Act 2009-Section 126A,on the part of the media, which bans even conducting of exit polls until half an hour after the end of polling, shows that many of the surveys are done during the day while the election is still progressing. As otherwise it would have been impossible for news channels and other publications to trash it out as soon as the day’s polls came to an end. The case of Delhi, where exit poll cacophony filled television sets even when polling was still on, as long as until 8:00 PM in certain booths, bears testimony to the above said fact. In this case, Exit polls which are to act as opinion surveys on how the voters’ voting behavior is, ends up being a pile of statutorily non-complied information.
The uncertainty of Exit Polls are further escalated through the system of its collection- random sampling- that carries a large margin of error. Also the raw data from the exit survey gets crunched with the actual electorate that shows up in the official returns and the sample gets adjusted to reflect the result.
The 2007 historic win of Bahujan Samaj Party wherein they bagged 205 of the total 403 seats in the State Legislature even when exit polls predicted none, is a prominent myth-buster with regard to success rates of such ‘opinion’ polls in India.
Touching upon the Indian scenario, current exit poll predictions do not sound good for the ruling. It has the effect of totally swapping votes against them as people now think it better to jump off the sinking boat. Also, this stands in the way of passing any serious legislation for some time until the General Elections.
As responsible citizens and enjoyers of adult suffrage in the country, it is up to us to realize that Exit polls are only meant to be analytical, something which is conducted only to find out why voters voted the way they did. The mentality of viewing them as tools to ‘predict’ the winner must wean off.
Last year’s Wisconsin elections can be taken as a classic example of failure of Exit polls, which often acts as crack for many a political junkie! These ‘exits’ should in no way be allowed to decide the ‘entry or exit’ of potential game changers in politics. Being a vigilante, some amount of awareness goes a long way in correcting this distortion.
About the Author
Swathi S Kumar is currently a student of MA in International Relations at University of Madras, Chennai. She has previously worked with The Hindu newspaper’s Thiruvananthapuram bureau as a Reporting Intern and is a volunteer with Garden Of Peace-Vellore, a not for profit organization focusing on educational needs of children from the marginalized sections of the society. She believes that the role of the youth in bringing about substantial and sustainable change in the society still stands unrealized and hence aims at working in proactive youth consortiums to bring about a positive change. Apart from this, her other interests lie in critical thinking, theatre arts, sight-seeing and writing. She is currently working as Associate, Programs for Alexis Centre for Public Policy and International Relations.