By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
Almost all Indian exit polls, which released their findings last Sunday, have said that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (BJP-NDA) will sweep the parliamentary elections which ended on May 19.
The BJP-NDA is jubilant, but the Congress and other opposition parties are maintaining that the exit polls can be extremely misleading given past experience with them. The real winner will be known only after counting is done ,they argue.
“Counting begins on May 23. Why can’t we wait for it?” asked a Congress leader.
But the media, keen on using what they have to the hilt, whether what they have on hand is true or not, are going to town boosting the image of BJP-NDA Supremo and incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi and writing off the opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi.
Exit Poll Predictions:
Over all, the exit polls have pegged the BJP-NDA tally anywhere between 267 and 350 out of a total number 543 seats in the Lower House of Parliament (Lok Sabha).
To form a government, a party or a coalition will need 272 seats at the minimum, which the BJP-NDA is expected to get even if it lands with only 267 seats.
According to the polls, while the BJP-NDA may lose between 30 to 60 seats in its strongholds in Hindi-speaking North India, it will make substantial gains in new pastures like West Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The exit polls also show that the BJP-NDA’s decision to put Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the forefront and project him as the “the” man to rule India, was correct. In the campaign Modi was contrasted with his opponents who were either described as “weak” like Rahul Gandhi or “too regional” like Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati of Uttar Pradesh, or Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal.
In the exit polls are to be believed, the personality cult built around Modi, has marginalized the many social and economic issues which the opposition was playing upon in its campaign.
The 2019 elections appears to have revived the “personality cult” which disappeared after the death of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
Uneven Performance of Exit Polls
However, can the exit poll be taken seriously given their uneven performance in the past?
The exit polls were right in 1998 and 1999, but went wrong in the 2004, 2009 and 2014 parliamentary elections, and also in the State Assembly elections in Delhi in 2015, Bihar in 2015, and Uttar Pradesh 2017.
Massive Failure of 2004
The Lok Sabha election in 2004 saw all the exit polls go wrong in gauging the people’s mood. All predicted the return of the Atal Behari Vajpayee led BJP-NDA government. But the BJP-NDA could not cross the 200-mark. It was reduced to 189. The “India Shining” campaign of the BJP-NDA had bombed as for most Indians, India was not shining.
On the other hand, the Congress-led UPA won 222 and ran a government first with the support of the Leftist parties and later with the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.
The exit polls in the 2009 election suggested an almost equal contest between the ruling UPA and the opposition NDA, with Nielsen’s survey giving 199 and 197 seats to the two blocs respectively. But in actuality, the UPA won 262 seats and the NDA won 159.
Redeemed in 2014
In the 2014 election, exit polls could successfully sense a Narendra Modi wave and predict a win for the BJP-NDA. One even accurately predicted 291 seats for the BJP and 340 for the NDA as a whole. When the results were announced, the BJP got 282 seats and the NDA won 336 in the 543-member parliament.
However, the exit polls failed in predicting the numbers for the Congress-UPA. Except one pollster, all suggested that the UPA will win 97 to 135 seats. But the Congress-UPA got only 59 with the Congress winning just 44. It failed to qualify for being designated as the Official Opposition.
The exit polls were way off the mark in the Delhi State Assembly elections in 2015. Given the fact that the BJP-NDA had won all the seven parliamentary seats in the State in May 2014, it was assumed that the BJP-NDA would sweep the State Assembly elections too.
Pre-election polls said that the BJP-NDA would get a minimum of 23 seats and a maximum of 54 out of the 70 seats in the Assembly. But the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) got 66 seats. The BJP-NDA got only four.
Opinion Polls Went Wrong in Australia Too
Most recently, exist polls went horribly wrong in Australia. Ruby Prosser Scully writing in www.newscientist.com pointed out that the opinion polls predicted that Prime Minister Scott Morrison would be defeated. But he won handsomely.
“For two years, polls put the left-leaning Labor party ahead of the more conservative coalition. While the gap progressively shrank in the six months ahead of the election, the figures were consistently in favor of a Labor win. Of the 16 polls held since the election was called last month, all went in favor of the Labor party when responders were asked to pick from the leading two parties.”
“On the eve of the election, four key opinion polls had Bill Shorten’s Labor at a 51-49 over Morrison’s Coalition. Exit polls and betting sites also got it wrong, with Sportsbet set to pay out at least AS$ 5.21 million,” Scully wrote.
As the picture of a coalition victory began to emerge on Saturday evening, ABC’s election analyst Antony Green called it “a bit of a spectacular failure of opinion polling”.
Commenting on the polls in a general away an expert said: “A single poll can be wrong by two or three per cent because of random sample error, but it is suspicious that all the polling firms were repeatedly getting similar, incorrect results.”
“It is vastly improbable that would happen by random chance,” an Australian commentator said.
Therefore, a pre-arrangement to come out with the same result is suspected. It is alleged that opinion polls agencies come to an agreement with each other to give more or less the same results so that none of them is sacked for giving the “wrong” prediction!
Looking at the Indian exit poll findings and the Australian pre-election polls together, Indian Congress party MP from Kerala, Dr.Shashi Tharoor, said that if exit polls went wrong in Australia with a smaller and more homogenous population, they could very well go wrong in a country like India which is incomparably more diverse and where the electorate is 900 million strong.
India opposition leaders have ridiculed the prediction that Modi would win and win convincingly given his bad economic performance.
Congress leader Anand Sharma described the exit polls as “entertainment.” He said TV stations would be able to keep their viewers “entertained with these predictions while they wait for counting of votes to start on May 23.”
Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that the exit polls are being used by the BJP-NDA to poach on the small parties in the UPA by promising cabinet portfolios.
Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu said that in the last elections to the State Assembly, all exit polls said that the YSR Congress will win, but when the votes were counted, the winner was his TDP.
The most telling remark was made India’s Vice President Venkaiah Naidu. He said: “These are not only exit polls, not exact polls!”