Monday, February 13, 2017

As exit and other polls in India lose their sheen

by Ratnakar Tripathy

The results for the assembly elections in Punjab, UP, Goa and Manipur will be announced on 11th March after the last round of voting in UP and Manipur takes place on 8th March. So the whole of February and the first week of March will be a nail-biting punishment for the political parties and their workers on the ground. The only likely excitement in the meantime may be some attempts at tampering of the EVM machines. In fact, the AAP leader Kejriwal has already brought one such instance from Punjab to attention when unknown persons were allegedly allowed access to the EVM boxes and there is a video with men handling the EVM trunks doing the rounds in the social media. Clearly, everyone is tense in an election which has seen an unusually multi-cornered contest with several parties in the fray. One way to spend the tension and suspense-ridden days is to indulge in wishfulness and assume a posture of supreme self-confidence. But the political parties especially the ruling BJP seems to have found a more substantial way to boost its morale – by organizing polls of various sorts indicating a clear victory for itself. Most of these polls are completely opaque and starting with the sample size and its demographics, the methodologies seem gravely flawed, in case someone is even willing to discuss the details. The entire exercise is thus a publicity stunt aiming to influence the voters through the various rounds of voting. The questionable assumption or hope here is that the voter will be influenced by the poll news at all. In fact the Indian voter now has a good idea of the general tilt of the media houses and this insight is seeping deeper even among the quasi-literate public. This is a sad reflection on the state of the media in India today but that is another story.
November 3, 1948: President Harry S. Truman, shortly after being elected as President, smiles as he holds up a copy of the Chicago Tribune issue prematurely announcing his electoral defeat. This image has become iconic of the consequences of bad polling data[courtesy: Wiki]

To come to the main point of this piece, despite the knowledge that exit polls are not permitted during the electoral phases in February and March, a Hindi media behemoth ‘Dainik Jagaran’ has gone ahead anyway and published the results of its exit polls. The Election Commission took a prompt notice of it however and has asked the polling officers to file an FIR against the paper. Dainik Jagaran on its part claims that their report on exit polls was ‘inadvertently’ published on its English site and was immediately removed. The statement went ‘We clarify that we fully comply with the directions which has been issued by Election Commission of India and are in the process of filing a detailed fact-based response with the ECI clarifying the position’. It is difficult to say how credible the excuse is but the firm that carried out the survey for Dainik Jagaran has this to say about its activities and business – ‘Resource Development International is an organization engaged in Business Advisory, Performance & Business Consulting, OD & HR Consulting, Training & Development, Executive Search & Resourcing, and Behavioural Coaching’. The business firms commissioned by the parties are quite likely to make a quick buck from tailored polls and have the skill and the lingo to reach results and conclusions they have been briefed to arrive at. All this nervousness is only an indication of the closeness of the fight and the yet ill-defined impact of demonetization on the current elections. What is however happening in the process is a demeaning of the various polls although I never quite understood the value or the veracity of these polls. What emerges from all this is apart from the grievous omission of worthwhile news in the press we now have manufactured lies being hurled at us on a daily basis. The only relief may be that the voting public is already wary and aware and more than one report in the recent days has claimed that voters in Punjab and elsewhere have been found to be deliberately misleading the journalists. Let us say this cruel sport on the part of the voter is fully deserved by the Indian media even if the few sincere journalists find it a painful distraction.

1 comment:

Umesh Patil said...

After Hillary defeat, polls lost lot of credibility in USA too. UK polls have been at the receiving end for a while, Brexit confirmed that.

Maybe all over the world the business of polls and public participation in Social Media could be altering 'value of polls'.