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Psephology and Indian exit poll analysis: A casual glance

Rapid acceleration of science and technology supplemented by proliferation of electronic media has made election surveys and exit polls popular in India

Psephology and Indian exit poll analysis: A casual glance

Sentinel Digital Desk

Gautam Ganguly


The results of the elections held recently in three north eastern states highlight once again the successful exit poll analysis worked out by a section of Indian psephologists and political commentators. Needless to reiterate that in a vast and populous country like ours bedevilled with multitudinous differences in caste, creed, language, financial, educational, and religious norms and perspectives, any effort to analyse the mindsets of voters is extremely challenging, brain taxing, and a gigantic task. During the last decade or so, near-correct election forecasts, be it in the general election of the country or a state election, are a pointer to the high quality mental acumen, non-prejudiced objective approach, and understanding of the psyche of the Indian electorate coupled with lofty analytical ability by a cluster of Indian political commentators.

Rapid acceleration of science and technology supplemented by proliferation of electronic media has made election surveys and exit polls popular in India among the ‘hoi-polloi’ ever since their telecasting began in the mid-80s. It was media baron Pannay Roy who pioneered election analysis and successfully predicted the victory of Congress in the general election of 1984. Roy is credited with championing opinion polling in India between 1980 and 1995. Prannay and Vinod Dua had formed an extremely incisive team, presenting their methodical election analysis in a gripping style.

At the risk of sounding hackneyed, it needs to be reminded that exit polls measure public opinion by asking people how they voted immediately after casting their ballots. Engulfing progress of science and technology and consequent commercialization have tangible impact on electronic media that enable the Indians to watch exit poll analysis telecast by a plethora of T.V. channels every time the country goes into election. It needs to be added that exit polls are distinct from opinion polls in that they measure a voter’s response in ‘real-time’ rather than ‘making prediction’.

It was Doordarshan that had initiated election analysis in a five-hour programme in 1996, telecast live in the wake of the Indian general election. Since then, there has been no election in India where exit poll results have not been televised.

However, for the Indian psephologists, despite their contemporary high-voltage performance, it was a sort of ‘baptism by fire’ in the initial days of election prediction and exit poll analysis. In the 2004 general election, most election experts and analysts were unanimous in asserting that the ruling dispensation, the NDA (National Democratic Alliance), would be back to power effortlessly. But the result was a shocker. The NDA lost the elections, and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was voted into power, dethroning the NDA. The result of the 2009 general election was another major upset for the innumerable media houses, experts, and poll pundits that had caught them on the wrong foot. As a sequel to the faulty predictions in 2004 Parliamentary election, all the predictions made by different media houses had gone haywire in 2009 election, as well. UPA was voted back to power beating their arch-rivals, NDA, in 2009 UPA was voted back to power in 2009, beating their arch-rivals, the NDA.

Digressing a bit to recapitulate one of the historic wrongful election predictions made by much-vaunted British political analysts and psephologists in the general election of Great Britain in 1945, in the aftermath of the Second World War, It needs no reiteration that the ‘Allied Forces’ under Winston Churchill fought tooth and nail against tyrannical Hitler and the Axis force was completely routed and annihilated during the Second World War. Churchill was the brain behind Hitler’s abysmal defeat. Therefore, experts were completely complacent and predicted an overwhelming victory for Churchill and his party during the 1945 election. However, the educated and refined English electorate, while paying accolades to Churchill for his dynamic, valiant leadership during the Second World War, opined that England needed peace and development following the wanton destruction caused by the war. Therefore, dubbing Churchill as a wartime prime minister,’ the English mandated in favour of Clement Atlee and his ‘Labour party’ to undertake development works in war-torn, devastated Great Britain.

In respect of Assam, exit polls unanimously predicted correctly the imminent change in the political dispensation during the 2001 state assembly election that ousted the incumbent government. However, opinion polls were fractured in the 2006 and 2011 state elections. Except for one TV channel and a handful of political commentators, most experts had predicted the exit of the ruling party and the emergence of a new political outfit during the 2011 election. Belying all such predictions, the ruling Congress dispensation had won both the elections held in 2006 and 2011 convincingly, creating a record of forming governments three times successively, and remained in power up to 2016.

Unprecedented unanimity of views was seen in exit poll analysis and the views of political commentators to predict the emergence of a new political regime during the general election of the country in 2014. Forecasts were also there about the near decimation of most opposition parties. The salient feature of all exit polls was that they echoed the same viewpoint about the victory of the BJP in the 2014 parliamentary election. However, due credit must be given to the political experts for successfully predicting the AAP’s victory in the Delhi union territory election. (Subsequently, Punjab)

Exit polls successfully analysed the thumping mandate for the BJP in 2016, annihilating the ruling Congress in the state assembly election of Assam. Subsequent exit polls for the 2021 state elections in Assam gave a clear verdict to the BJP retaining its power on the strength of better governance, transparency, and developmental activities.

With hectic people-friendly activities being undertaken by the union government to inspire confidence among the general mass, disparaging comments by political commentators and dissenting opinions in exit polls, be they parliamentary or state-wide, are steadily on the decline.

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