Yes. Opinion polls, a widely acclaimed tool to gauge popular political views, have gradually diminished in value over the years. There are, of course, several notorious factors contributing to their lowering respect, some of them emanating from hidden agendas and behaviours most polling companies adopt. Here are four reasons why opinion polls are losing popularity.
In a 1997 meeting with the Election Commission of India (ECI), several national and state party representatives termed opinion polls as unscientific. Following this, the ECI laid down certain guidelines to be followed when publishing opinion poll results in order to give fair information to the reader. Newspapers and channels are required to disclose the sample size, the details of polling methodology, the margin of error and the credibility of the polling agency.
Despite this mandate, there have been several instances where media houses have published exit poll results without following the set parameters. In 2007, several complaints were filed against NDTV Director, Prannoy Roy for broadcasting polls during the voting hours. In 2017, the web editor of Dainik Jagran, Shekhar Tripathi, was arrested in 2017 for publishing exit polls on the website soon after the first phase of UP elections ended.
Several news organisations like India Today and News24 have linkages to polling orgs like Axis-My India and Today’s Chanakya respectively. While private polling agencies may be credited with unbiased surveys, the case may not always be the same for these results.
For example, Axis-My India suggested that BJP was the popular choice in the December 2017 Gujarat assembly elections. But Chanakya allegedly published a completely contradictory opinion, suggesting a clear win for Congress. Congress functionary – Rohan Gupta then thanked Chanakya for their support through a tweet from his official handle ‘The first round goes in our favour.’ Evidently, polling orgs do not follow the same sample size and study technique, to bring out the desired results. Moreover, publications’ agenda settings also add bias to opinion poll results.
To make matters worse, both these results were broadcasted despite the ECI mandated ban on publication of opinion polls before the election results were out. Consequently, non-factual and inconsistent information is published leading to confusion among the masses.
Opinion and exit polls have been grossly inaccurate in the past years, with election results bringing in massive shock among voters. It is believed that polling companies’ personal ideologies, inconsistent polling methods and surveys being tailored to suit a party’s propaganda are the reasons for inaccurate predictions.
For example, Dainik Jagran, in their exit polls, had shown BJP leading the 2015 Bihar assembly election. But when the actual results came in, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal were the leading parties, with BJP taking up the third position. Similarly, in 2007, BSP was predicted to fare terribly in the UP assembly polls. Yet, when the results were released, BSP won as many as 206 out of 403 seats, forming the majority in UP.
Pre-election polls are largely known to influence public opinion. On-the-edge or indecisive voters refer to opinion polls to make their decision of whom to vote. Bandwagon mentality also plays an important role in enhancing the effect of polls.
For example, studies have shown that there are two types of voters. A is a strategic voter who has already decided which candidate to vote for and thus advises others on the same. B is usually an indecisive voter affected by bandwagon. He follows the advice of voter A along with the confidence generated by polls for the winning party.
Tactical voting is another consequence of opinion polls, wherein a voter supports a particular candidate only to prevent undesirable outcomes.
Political parties may also use paid opinion polls to create a placebo effect among the public. Polling companies, based on their personal agendas, may release positive results for a party, thus swaying public opinion in their favour.
The ECI has on several occasions tried to invoke restrictions or a ban on polls. During the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, it received support from various political parties. The then Chief Election Commissioner, MS Gill, said that these polls suffered from biases in the size and nature of samples. Once again in 2004, the ECI with support from 6 national parties and 18 state parties attempted to ban both exit and opinion polls. Their recommendations were finally accepted and a partial ban was executed in 2010, imposing restrictions on exit polls. News channels, since then, have tried to work around the ban, by broadcasting poll predictions through astrologers and tarot readers.
Unlawful tactics by publishers and a highly inaccurate track record have led to a fall in the popularity and respect of opinion/exit polls.