March 9, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we look at whether exit polls after elections are reliable. We also look at the dismal state of a heritage site in Karnataka, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Exit Polls – Accurate Predictor or TV News Frenzy?
The candidates have given their speeches and interviews, held rallies, and crores of rupees have been spent trying to mobilise people to vote for them. Then comes the voting, the counting, and the declaration of results. But there’s one component that fits snugly into that timeline – exit polls.
As we await the results of the recent assembly polls in several states, the exit polls are out, and TV news channels are all over it. There are quite a few of them given channels and media houses conduct their own exit surveys. Are they a reliable indicator of what could happen on counting day?
We previously covered opinion polls but now let’s examine exit polls. In simple terms, exit polls are surveys done by researchers asking voters how they voted once they have cast their ballot. It’s a way to predict or at the very least get some indication of the results.
Both opinion and exit polls offer insights into the mind of a voter. The main component here is the trend. Political scientists, journalists, and even candidates can get some idea concerning where the political winds are blowing. Of course, one main difference between opinion and exit polls is that the former is conducted weeks before voting and the latter just after.
In India, exit polls were almost indigenously developed by the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in the 1960s. In many ways, exit polls in India were pioneered by psephologist Prannoy Roy and David Butler. With the ascent of TV news and print media, exit polls gained greater significance and prominence. For example, in 1996, Doordarshan commissioned a country-wide exit poll in partnership with CSDS.
As they’ve gained prominence over the years, the Election Commission of India (ECI) and legislation came into the picture. Section 126A of the Representation of the People’s Act, 1951, bans exit polls from the beginning of voting until half an hour after the final phase of voting has taken place.
In 1998, the ECI decided to regulate exit polls. They decided to act during the 1998 general elections. The first phase of the elections was scheduled for February 16, 1998, and the final phase was on March 7. Under Article 324 of the constitution, it issued guidelines barring newspapers and news channels from publishing exit polls between 5 pm on February 14 and 5 pm on March 7, 1998. (They did something similar for the current elections as well.)
What followed was friction between media houses and the ECI concerning the regulations on exit polls. The ECI invoked the same guidelines for the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. Some media houses were unhappy, and the matter went to court. The Supreme Court wasn’t pleased with the ECI’s reasoning, and it was forced to withdraw them.
Now, the exit polls have been released for the five states that just went to the polls. Should you trust them? Or could they actually be a preview of what’s to come tomorrow when the results are announced?
They’ve gotten things right
Exit polls should be viewed with a grain of salt. However, they shouldn’t be dismissed altogether. They can prove to be a bellwether for parties and candidates. It would be narrow-minded to think of exit polls as a tool for news channels to grab eyeballs and boost ratings. They’ve gotten things right in the past, and that shouldn’t be ignored.
As with making predictions, the proof is in the pudding. In the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, the exit polls of CSDS showed a fractured mandate. The results were fairly accurate. While the BJP emerged as the largest party, it didn’t have a proper majority. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government fell apart in just 13 days. In 1998, the exit polls for the Lok Sabha elections showed the BJP-led coalition winning more than 200 seats and the Congress fewer than that. The results were BJP with 252 and Congress with 166. In 2014, the exit polls showed a clear front-runner with Modi and the BJP and the Congress performing poorly. The results reflected that.
One of the criticisms that opinion polls have faced is that it could affect how people vote since the survey is done before people cast their votes. There’s no scope for this in exit polls and hence can prove to be a relatively more accurate tool. In keeping with the accuracy component, it’s important to set expectations for exit polls. Apart from this, they also offer useful insights in gauging political and socio-economic demographics. The information gathered isn’t just who you voted for but why you voted for a particular party and candidate.
Overall, exit polls have got it wrong more than they have gotten it right. It would be naive to put too much stock in exit polls if they’ve been wrong more times than they’ve been right. Let’s take a basic premise. How sure is the surveyor that the voter is telling the truth? Of course, we assume everyone surveyed is being truthful and understands the point of the exercise. While it may be a cynical way to look at it, it can’t be dismissed.
Two back-to-back exit polls for the 2004 and 2009 elections were wildly off the mark. In 2004, exit polls showed a win for the BJP. Pollsters got it wrong. Many predicted a swing towards the incumbent BJP, while some saw only a small dip in their tally. However, the Congress party clawed back. In 2009, most exit polls did favour the UPA, but they completely missed the bigger trend – big swings towards the UPA. Take the current exit poll for Punjab. It shows the AAP getting a majority. However, some are flawed and structurally biased in favour of the AAP, given the sample size and demographics selected.
The reason why exit polls have this air of unreliability isn’t due to any outside factor entirely. More often than not, pollsters are to blame for this. The opacity surrounding exit polls breeds suspicion. Even in countries with a long tradition of polling, like the UK, exit polls can go wrong. Pollsters underestimated support for the Conservative Party in 2015 and for Brexit in 2016. Even after things went wrong, the UK established the British Polling Council (BPC). The US has the American Association for Public Opinion. There’s no Indian counterpart and that doesn’t build confidence in exit polls.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Exit polls are reliable.
b) Exit polls are unreliable.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Justice Akil Kureshi’s Non-Elevation: A Worrying Signal Of Executive Influence Over Collegium
For the Left:
In Times Of VUCA, Being Atmanirbhar Is The Only Way To Stay On Top, Ensure Growth
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Orange bowl under threat (Arunachal Pradesh) – Recently, the quality of oranges from Dambuk, the “orange bowl” of the state, has significantly declined. According to Tony Borang, member of the Zilla Parishad and cultivator, this is due to the lack of scientific know-how of the community. Right now, only tribes of the region cultivate oranges and monoculture or single-crop cultivation ruins the quality of the soil.
Why it matters: Orange cultivation in Dambuk started in 1979 and has been quite profitable for the people ever since. A farmer with around 1,000 orange trees can usually earn anything between ₹15 to ₹20 lakh. Yet, the cultivation is flocked with issues galore. Roads don’t go up orchards and red ant infestations are rather common. But Borang, among others, remains hopeful about even a little formal assistance going a long way.
Back to oilseed cultivation (Punjab) – As of now, India imports $1,372 million worth of oilseeds from Ukraine, and due to the situation there, this is sure to get hit. Thus, the government is once again turning its focus towards oilseed cultivation in Punjab. Something the state has been trying to push to save groundwater and soil fertility, and reduce stubble burning. Experts are demanding a ₹5,000 crore allocation for this, per annum.
Why it matters: Ukraine is the largest sunflower seed producer in the world, and accounts for over 30% of the global market. Now, to reduce the gap between indigenous production and domestic demand, Punjab seems to be our best bet. When the Green Revolution was introduced, oilseeds like mustard and rapeseed covered over 1 lakh hectares. This saw a steady decline since then, with the 2020-21 numbers at 33,000 hectares.
Significant rise in women drivers (Odisha) – Over the last 5 years, the state has seen a 33% increase in women drivers. In 2017, according to the Commerce and Transport Department, the state had only 25,086 licensed women drivers. In 2021, that figure reached 33,666 women with valid driver’s licences. According to Sanjay Biswal, Joint Commissioner Transport (Road Safety), while this is good, the statistical disparity is still rather disappointing.
Why it matters: Back in 2019, the total number of valid driving licences in India was 206 million. Out of that, 6.8% belonged to women. While this number is believed to have increased since, just like Biswal stated, the gender gap is still nowhere close to narrowing. To actually better this, Odisha has increased the number of women driving instructors in their institutes, from 25 in 2016-17 to 90 now.
Stronger public hearing system (Rajasthan) – As the demand for a Transparency and Social Accountability Bill keeps getting louder, the state government has started working on the public hearing system in villages. CM Gehlot has directed officials in a review meeting to fully use the Sampark portal, the helplines and fix hearings at the CM’s residence for prompt grievance redressal at every level.
Why it matters: The Transparency and Social Accountability Bill has been a part of the Congress party’s manifesto since the 2018 elections. As of now, the demands of information and livelihood activists have been modified from the enactment of the law to an early introduction of the Bill in the state assembly. As for the Sampark portal, from 2017-22, out of the 77.69 lakh complaints received, 76.86 lakh have been resolved.
Losing history (Karnataka) – Right after the fortification at Halebidu was recommended for a World Heritage Site tag, one of the fort walls was demolished for laying a road. Over 2 weeks ago, the 20 ft road was found where a wall of the fort should have been. Considering Halebidu is one of the major tourist sites in the region, the demolition comes as a surprise to locals and historians alike.
Why it matters: Halebidu was once the capital of the Hoysala rulers, between the 10th and 14th centuries. They were first stationed in Belur, but later moved to Halebidu. The fort in question was built by the Hoysalas in the 11th century, with granite boulders that had remained strong till about 2 weeks ago. As the fort does not qualify as a monument, it isn’t protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
5.3 million – According to the Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India, there are about 5.3 million people in India, above the age of 60, that suffer from dementia as of 2020. This number is expected to cross 14 million by 2050.