Elections, Exit Polls and the Electronic Media

in The Great March of Democracy: Seven Decades of India's Elections
Edited by S Y Quraishi

As election polls in India are often marred in controversy, this chapter discusses the typology of election-related surveys, reviews the status of opinion polls from a historical perspective, and addresses some of the criticisms leveled against election surveys.  It discusses the strengths and limitations of opinion polls - when and why do they go wrong? In the popular imagination, the only utility of opinion polls is to be able to make exact seat forecast and thus there are several misconceptions. The chapter deals with the following six questions in detail. First, do polls really influence voting preferences, especially when they sometimes make conflicting predictions? Second, why do polls err in making an accurate estimation of election results? Third, how fair is it to expect on-dot polling predictions? Fourth, can we devise an academically explainable formula for converting vote share into seats? Fifth, how do we educate voters and political parties to meaningfully interpret survey findings. Sixth, what positive things do they offer despite their failures to predict the outcome?

The chapter argues that elections are merely a window and opinion polls are one of the many tools used to peer through that window to study the political and social fabric of our society with the ultimate goal of understanding its democratic health.

This chapter is an abridged version of the August 2016 issue of Seminar Magazine, which can be read here.