On Sunday morning while going through newspapers, I was immensely happy to learn that a number of Exit Polls have predicted a clean sweep for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) followed by the BJP and Congress. I was more happy because the BJP had hurled all sorts of abuses on Kejriwal while the Delhi CM talked about the performance of his government. His only statement was, “If you are happy with the performance of my government, vote for me.”
Suddenly a question came to my mind as to ‘How important are exit polls’ and how are they devised? I spoke to few friends of mine about this and this is what I gathered:
Firstly, exit polls gives a broad idea and trend as to which party looks the strongest and how many seats will it get. It gives us the right idea as to where the frame of mind of the nation is heading to.
Secondly, an exit poll is a survey of voters taken soon after they cast their votes. It is conducted by several channels/ websites which use different methods for the purpose. Basically, exit polls are considered as an indicator to which party would form the next government.
Now, coming to the point as to how are exit polls conducted and regulated. People who conduct an exit poll follow a number of different methods. One of the most common method is sampling. Some may opt for random or systematic sampling. When we talk about random sampling, at times this can be of an entire electorate and not just the voters outside a booth which covers parameters like age, sex, caste, region etc.
Then comes the point where we differentiate between an exit poll and an opinion poll. An opinion poll is getting the view of the people as to whom the voter plans to vote, but an exit poll is for whom the voter actually voted for.
Earlier, channels and papers used to splash exit polls before the elections. But after giving it a serious thought, the Election Commission came up with the conclusion that exit polls can be telecast by organisations including websites only after final phase of polling. Further the Commission stated that the advisory would include display of any opinion poll and of standard debates, analysis, visuals and sound-bytes etc. It is also stated that news broadcasters must not air any final, formal and definite results until the results are formally announced by the Election Commission of India.
Further Section 126A of the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951 states that no person shall conduct any exit poll and publish or publicise it by means of the print or electronic media or disseminate in any other manner, whatsoever, the result of an exit poll during such period as may be notified by the Election Commission in this regard. Any person who contravenes the provisions of this section shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both.
When I asked him as to why exit and opinion polls have been opposed by the Election Commission during a multi-phase election, Deepak Gagwani said, “If organisations conducting exit/opinion polls are perceived to be biased, then both kinds of polls can be controversial. In fact, critics says that these type of surveys can be influenced by the choice, wording and by the nature of the sample drawn.”
Now the vital question is are exit polls reliable? Undoubtedly exit polls give us an idea about the trend and also a sense of direction about the mood of the nation where it is directing. But it should be taken into consideration that there are several instances when predictions of exit polls turn out to be wrong.
There are many people who don’t believe in exit polls because they think that in most cases they are biased in terms of choice, words, timings of the questions and methodology that they use and kind of sample they draw.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)