Herald: Why have exit polls if they are not exact

Why have exit polls if they are not exact

21 May 2019 05:27am IST
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21 May 2019 05:27am IST

Exit polls predict that Prime Minister Modi is heading back to his South Block Office. But the million dollar question is whether this is definite? The answer to this shall be “No”, as it is not the final result and one has to wait till May 23 to get the correct picture.

As reported, in seven phases, there has been an overall polling of 67.34 per cent out of the approximate 90 crore voters, about 1.21 per cent higher than the 66.13 per cent recorded in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. When this amount of humongous data is involved it is almost next to impossible to ‘predict’ correctly and all assumptions made by the ‘mood’ and sentiments on the ground, can be very dangerously deceptive, and can lead to a very high to unworthy speculations by professional punters. 

Exit polls have its effect on the stock and financial markets too. The recent ‘leak’ of the exit polls had its affect on the stock market too and many who had the information made merry at the stock market. This surely deserves the attention of regulators Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the Election Commission of India. At present, trading done on the basis of fore-knowledge of opinion or exit polls, does not amount to any insider trading. However, it does amount to extraordinary profits generated by a few, who had access to poll data, at the cost of those who did not. This asymmetry of information can be tackled in two ways.

First, is to treat exit poll data on par with corporate information that insiders have privileged access to but are barred from sharing in the market. The other is for the Election Commission to allow exit polls after every phase of polling, across India which may give rise ‘influencing’ voters who will be exercising their franchise in later phases. In fact, the Election Commission had banned this practice, fearing that exit poll outcomes would influence voters towards the projected winners. This assumption seems to be flawed. In a deeply diverse, hierarchical and caste-ridden society, exit or opinion polls can as easily drive votes in one direction, as another. Besides, over the years, exit polls have gone wrong in many cases. Punting on the basis of exit polls would also be very risky, if these polls were to be released regularly through the entire duration of a campaign. 

Politically, exit polls have helped even the political parties to make or engage in pre-result fragile alliances with plenty of room for ‘negotiations and bargains’ for formation of a government. In fact, the period between the release of exit polls and the actual results is the most discerning times for all politicians as it will affect their ‘career growth’ for the upcoming five years to the least. Generally, people who are politically active and alert along with media, too get their feed from exit polls to deliberate and show their intellect. But all such activities are mere speculation and it is no less then ‘gambling’ as no one can say for sure what the EVM will reveal on May 23. 

The question thus arises whether this so-called ‘tradition’ of releasing the exit poll should continue or not. At the first outset, the entire exercise of coming out with exit poll will prove futile if the actual results goes against the prediction. Yes, for some pollsters and psephologists it is time to earn their bread and butter. As the Vice President of India Venkaiah Naidu has already expressed recently that exit polls are not exact polls, it does raise a question on why to have such an exercise if it is not correct and has a great potential to fuel rumour and speculation. 

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