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ESSAY : Should Opinion / Exit Polls be Banned?
Tuesday, 16 July 2013 12:03

Should Opinion / Exit Polls be Banned?

Exit polls be banned, Opinion polls be banned, every political party clamouring, trying to find one or the other excuse, searching one or the other logic, legal, ethical or political to get the exit/opinion polls banned.”

Almost all national and regional political parties re unanimous on the point that the opinion and exit polls must be banned once election are announced or the result of opinion or exit polls should not be made public till the voting process is over. All the political parties find these polls an obstacle to free and fair election and a threat to healthy democracy. All the political parties met the Election Commission for a ban on the opinion and exit polls in order to have a fair and unbiased polling which is the basic requirement for the functioning of healthy democracy in our country.

At a first glance, those opposing exit polls seems to have a reasonable point. It is feared and presumed that the opinion or exit polls generate a bandwagon effect among voters who go to the booths on a later date. This sounds fine theoretically but there is no evidence to prove this theory of ‘Induced cause Effect”.

The political parties are so puzzled that they are talking to get an ordinance promulgated to ban the opinion and exit polls form the date of notification of election till the last ballot is cast. Let us examine, the reasons given, in favour of banning the opinion and exit, by several political leaders and analysts.

(a)   One important argument for banning the opinion or exit polls is that these polls have a bandwagon effect. It means these polls make a motivating effect on voters to cast the votes in favour of the winning party which distorts the political process, so opinion and exit polls must be banned. The argument look pretty good theoretically, but there is no evidence in support of the assertion. Take the example of State of Rajasthan where assembly elections were held in Dec. 2003. All the opinion and exit polls published before the elections projection the congress, the winning party but the result was totally against the opinion and exit polls. The BJP won a clear majority winning the first time 120 seats and the congress got merely 56 seats out of the 200 total. As such the theory of bandwagon effect does not hold true.

(b)   Our more pleas against the opinion and exit polls is that these polls encourages tactical voting, meaning thereby, these polls induce the voter to judge the way the wind is blowing and the decide what the should do or in the words of kapil Sibbal, spokesperson of the Congress party, “Opinion polls are opinion making polls so these should be banned.

Thought there is no evidence of any significant impact of these poles yet if these polls help the voter to decide to whom he should vote even then what is wrong with that anyway? Every political party try their best to woo or influence the voters by their manifestos, speeches full of promises and assurances, many of which are just a part of paper work, no intention of fulfilling them. If all these things are OK then why not the opinion or exit polls are not?

(c)   Another argument is that opinion and exit polls are based on small samples and may not be inaccurate. A sample of 20,000 to 40, 000 in a country of 650 million voters? So these polls be banned.

Statistically, if the universe (means the total electorate) is large, the size of sample does not depend on the size of universe. In USA with an electorate of around 200 million, a sample of 1200 does work, then why sample of 20,000 to 40,000 not enough in Indian context. It is said that India being a country with much more diversity, needs a larger sample. Most of the opinion polls have bases on error (the good ones have a range of 3-4%) and they measure opinion at the time when the polls is conducted, so size of sample is sufficient to get the approximate results.

(d)   A presumed fear to political parties is that the results of exit polls is likely announcing the result, that is not fair, as elections still have to be conducted in many States, and it could influence those voters, so these polls be banned.

Paradoxically, in previous arguments politicians wanted to ban these polls, because they are inaccurate but sometimes it is felt that they want to ban these polls, because they are accurate. If the exits polls provide some guidance to the intending voters, what is wrong with that? In USA nobody argue to ban the exit polls, as they knew the right of freedom of speech available with the citizens. Similar freedom are also guaranteed in our Constitution under Article 19 (1) (a) then why clamouring?

(e)   One more funny argument is given to ban these polls, is that in our country we have multistage election, so the publication of opinion and exits polls results may demoralize the cadres of the losing political party so these polls be banned.

It appears that the political parties are suffering from some psychic problems. Whether it is the job of the opinion polls to inform the public or be concerned about the morale of political workers? Do articles written by journalists, speeches made by politicians, forecasts made by astrologers, all based on imaginary things without concrete evidence, not demoralize the cadres?

(f)    It is also argued that some opinion polls are conducted in a biased manner, and on the behest of some political party which is not fair and could mislead the voters so these polls be banned.

We can find some rotten apples in any profession, but most organisations in India conducting opinion polls or exit polls are market research organisation. Most of these organizations are not exclusively busy in opinion or exit polls, it is not more than 3 to 4% of their business that is too during election period. In case they are biased or unprofessional has major impact on their commercial business, the good ones normally drive out the bad in course of time. Among politicians, on the other hand, the bad normally drive out the good once! Could we trust the politicians in any way even in respect to their allegiance with any political [party, no…not at all. We could find a number of politicians changing parties in every election just to get the ticket or to get some other lucrative post etc. so why not a perfect ban on these nefarious political activities is there?

Conclusively, all the arguments given/advanced in favour of banning the opinion or exit polls, do not hold water. Moreover our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression [Article 19 (1) (a) ] and the right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business [Article 19 (g)], so it is totally unreasonably against the spirit of Constitution to ban the opinion and exit polls.