Can we rely upon exit polls?

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In India, when elections are round the corner, either for the State Assemblies or the Parliament, it has become a fashion or even customary to release exit poll surveys on the eve of elections. Exit poll surveys are conducted by non-profit private organizations, like a team led by Loyola College, Chennai or some media sponsored organizations like NDTV.

A common man’s dilemma is:

1) Whether we can rely upon these exit poll results?

2) Do they really reflect or echoe the correct view points of the voters?

3) Whether we can embark upon any pre-poll or post-poll strategy on the basis of these exit poll results?

When we take up the first question, whether we can rely upon these exit polls, we have to analyze certain factors before giving our answer. Because, recently on the eve of Karnataka State Assembly Elections in India, two exit poll surveys were released on the eve of first phase of elections held on 10 th May, 2008, in the 89 constituencies conducted in the key Cauvery basin area. One exit poll was conducted by a team sponsored by Loyola College, Chennai and another one was a team sponsored by NDTV, New Delhi. When the results of the exit polls were announced by both teams in a span of one weak, both the results gave us a different picture .The team from Loyola College, Chennai, predicted a hung assembly in the state of Karnataka, with 75-to 80 seats to BJP overall, 55 seats to the Congress I and some 25 seats to the Janata Dal (S) and some 20 seats undecided. Still the exit poll did not give a complete survey for all the 224 seats, which showed that the survey team itself was rather confused or undecided.

The second exit poll result was announced by the team sponsored by NDTV, which predicted only on the basis of the first phase of elections conducted to 89 seats on 10 th May, 2008.According to it the BJP would get 31 seats out of 89 contested in the Cauvery basin area, bagging 14 seats out of capital Bangalore, 23 seats to the Congress I and 26 seats to the Janata Dal (S).Actually Janata Dal (S) leaders are buoyant and hopeful of winning as many as 40 seats, in the first phase. The NDTV survey of the first phase has actually given its results only for 80 seats out of 89 contested in the first phase. Therefore, though the results may seem sensational and tickling our nerves, still we cannot rely upon them, because the results were inconclusive in both the surveys.

Taking up the second issue, whether the results of the exit polls truly reflect the correct view points of the voters, the answer is certainly not affirmative because, the exit poll surveys are conducted at random among the voters and they do not reflect the exact viewpoint of all the voters in its entirety. One cannot be rest assured that all those people who have given their opinion in the exit poll survey will come to vote. For example in the first phase only 60% turn out was recorded. One cannot exactly say and be rest assured that the exit poll survey reflected only 60 % of those people who had voted. The exit poll survey does not take in to account the voter’s default. Again but for the open indication of a voter in whose favor he would vote, there are certain other parameters in a voter’s house to find out in whose favor he will vote. Say in the house a prominent leader or a worker of a party, one can find party flags flying, leaders’ photos would be there and so it would be easy to count their vote in favor of a particular party. Whereas in the case a common man or a neutral voter, it is quite tough to find out in whose favor his vote will swing and he is the most volatile and difficult to gauge in the exit poll. Again in our democracy, last minute shift or tilt or swing in favor a candidate, by wooing the voter, by virtue of money, by liquor and by persuasion has become the typical characteristics of Indian democracy and one can do nothing to prevent these influences and these voters being highly volatile, could not be taken into account in the exit poll and it is needless to say that these voters form a considerable portion of the voters who will certainly vote without default.

Considering the third issue, as to the result of an exit poll, though a common voter may remain unconcerned, but the political parties which are in the fray are more serious and concerned about these exit poll results. When a detailed break up of these exit poll results are once made available, it is quite possible, the contesting political parties may regroup themselves and concentrate more on the weak areas which needs to be attended. However, one should not forget that the agencies that conduct the exit polls are rank outsiders and certainly do not feel accurately the pulse of the voters of a constituency and in this regard the native men, political workers and leaders are more adepts in assessing the pulse of the people more accurately than the exit poll surveyors. Above all the exit polls do not take into account the communal factors correctly into account because sometimes during the survey for exit polls, the voter may not reveal his actual caste and thereby don’t want to get reduced in social status.

Thus we see, the exit poll surveys cannot be relied upon accurately, but still they provide a general view point of the public opinion or we can say voters’ opinion at random, on the basis of which, we cannot accurately gauge the result of a particular constituency. Again a voter is not swayed by these exit poll opinions at random, since he is influenced by various other strong factors which he considers dear.

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