Exit polls have pronounced the victory of the BJP-led NDA and return of power of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. All exit polls barring the ABP-Nielson that is little away for rest of them point out to a clear sweep of the BJP and its allies.
While exact numbers would be known only on May 23 when counting of votes takes place but if we were to presume that exit polls are correct then the NDA is wining between 300 plus to 240 seats.The Congress plus non-BJP opposition is getting between 88 and 128 seats.India Today has gone to the extent of predicting more than 360 seats for the NDA.
Based on exit polls outcome, it can be safely deduced that there was a Modi wave in 2019 elections which could not be gauged or it would be far better to say that the wave was underground not visible to ordinary mortals. Average of all exit polls indicates that the BJP, as it had calculated, will make up for its losses in Uttar Pradesh with a surge in Odisha and West Bengal. The poll of polls also indicates that the Congress will crash in the three big heartland states it won in December, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
At the same time, there is a wide variation of predictions in different exit polls. In the biggest state of Uttar Pradesh, polls are showing that the BJP is likely to win between 22 to 59 seats. Similarly, in states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab there are variations in different exit polls.
Now, numbers that finally emerge on May 23 will decide the shape and character of the next government.
Not with standing the exit poll results and their prediction of number of seats for each political party or alliances, history of these survey doesn’t evoke much confidence in them. In India, exit polls have often proved to be unreliable. There have been several instances when they have predicted the verdict of an election incorrectly. For instance, exit polls on the 2004 Lok Sabha polls wrongly predicted the BJP-led NDA coalition winning again, while in 2009 they underestimated Congress-led UPA’s seat share. In 2014, however, most of the exit polls turned out to be accurate with BJP securing a majority of its own.
All surveys had predicted 200 seats for the BJP bettering its previous record of 182 seats in 1998 and 1999. In contrast all surveys barring Times Now-ORG, had foretold that the Congress would slip below the100 mark. The Times Now-ORG had predicted the Congress would cross 100 seats. The surveys had also predicted the BJP would do well in Uttar Pradesh with all the surveys pointing out to the saffron party tally crossing 45 seats out of the total 80 seats in the biggest state.
The exit polls had also predicted that Tinamool Congress and AIADMK of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa would be the only two parties that would bag 20 seats or more. The surveys had given the NDA between 249 seats (Times Now-ORG) and 340 seats (News 24-Chanakaya) and between 70 (News24-Chanakaya) and 148 seats (Times Now-ORG) to the UPA.
While exit pollsters have often got wrong in India, in recent past they have been terribly off the mark even in western democracies. In Australian parliamentary elections, over 50 exit pollsters had predicted the victory of the center-left Labor party and defeat of the Liberal led conservative coalition government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Even in the last US presidential election which was won by Republican candidate Donald Trump, exit polls had gone wrong. Pollsters were wrong in the Brexit exit polls in United Kingdom. Now coming back to India, we have to take a close look at factors that put serious constraints on pollsters conducting exit polls. While the BJP’s committed voter and its followers were outspoken in telling his or her voting option, voter of other parties cannot afford to be bold informing pollsters about their respective choices.
In an aggressive and confrontationist environment, ordinary voter would think twice before confiding in an unknown person about his electoral choice.Which party or which candidate he or she has voted for is an impossible proposition aselement of fear needs to be taken in account while deciding about the credibility of the exit polls.
There has been a debate whether exit polls should be allowed or not. After long deliberations, the Election Commission with the objective of creating a level playing field had decided that exit polls would not be telecast, announced or published till the elections are over. The EC chose not to ban the exit polls because they were being conducted in democratic set-ups world over. Exit polls in a country where elections are conducted in multi-phases are an anachronism.
However, the EC had allowed the conducting of exit polls after every phase of elections. The EC had presumed that exit poll outcomes will not be shared with political leaders, bureaucracy. powerful groups and influential business leaders. The EC’s faith seems to misplaced as the data is shared giving the ruling party an advantage.
Exit poll outcome may have given satisfaction to some and disappointed others, fact remains that these need to be accepted with not a pinch of salt but with loads of it particularly seen in the background of the fact that the BJP has not lost a single exit poll since 1998.Though in fact it did lose several of them.
Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.