Exit Polls: How Much to Rely on them and What is the Eventual Outcome

Exit Polls: How Much to Rely on them and What is the Eventual Outcome

A Dramaof Noise and Chaos that hardly affects the final result...

Explaining exit polls and the frenzy of Exit polls and whether they affect the final outcome

June 1 2024, Udaipur: As the last phase of polling for the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections comes to an end, the media frenzy orbits to a next level - the Exit Polls.

At 6:30pm, the first trickles of the various Exit Polls across the hundreds of news channels, both electronic and digital began to be shown. The political analysts empanelled by these media channels, all fresh and crisply dressed began their analysis. While the slightly composed anchors and senior journalists stuck to their elegant demeanor, the others who are proud of their the stamina and strength in their vocal chords, began yelling on the numbers being shown by the exit polls...as is their life and that of their parent channels depended on these very numbers... be it saffron, green or blue.  Exit Polls are anything but Black and White. As the curtains on the Model Code of Conduct was lifted the immediate exit polls indicated that the BJP led NDA will be returning to power with between 340-370 seats and I.N.D.I.A bloc will get 120-160 seats.  However, are these Exit Polls reliable? Will they be equivalent to a weekend drama intended to create a bubble boost in the Share Markets to push the index up and let a few make their bucks and exit...rather than wait for what might happen on 4 June?

So the first question... what are Exit Polls?

Well, its a combination of Science and Art, where Commerce is directly influenced. The surveys work on the assumption that the data was collected after interviewing a large number of voters outside the polling stations, as they come out after getting their fingers marked. They are also conducted through structured questionnaires on telephone and social media channels. Exit Polls have been in vogue since 1957, first conducted by the Indian Institute of Public Opinion, during the second Lok Sabha elections.

How Reliable are Exit Polls?

Exit Polls might give a reasonable indication. The accuracy of Exit Polls, though, has been under a shadow of doubt on their accuracy. However, the accuracy of the Exit polls depends on the professionalism of the agency conducted them, the channel that commissioned the agency, the sample size and the innovative method adopted. There have been a number of times that they have got it wrong... but not entirely. In fact, the smarter of the lot do not even look at doing exit polls for many seats, where the results are obvious - where top political leaders are pitching their battle tents. That is by default their domain and losing such will be a surprise.

The Media and Exit Polls

As mentioned above, as voting ends, the volume in the media channels increases and the front page of news papers is full of Exit Poll results and inner pages filled with analysis. The content is consumed by the overeager voter and sofa couch analysts who will discuss 'their' (read and digested) points of view in the evening over a cup of tea or in the pub. What they discuss and what the media says has no bearing on the aftermath of the final counting. The action begins only after the counting is over and results are out. The hours or days between the end of polling and the final results is TRP caressing time. Advertisement revenue and graphic displays showcasing their software tool usage to their best of ability. The what if analysis happens on the stock market numbers. The first of the exit polls affects the market opening on the next trading day in the bourses.

Immediate History

In 2019,  the NDA got 353 seats of which the BJP won 303. Congress won 52. These numbers, when compared to the average of the Exit Polls that year, showed deviations of less than 15%. Five years prior, when the political landscape changed, the Modi-BJP led NDA secured 336 seats (Exit: 283) of which BJP won 282. On the losing side, Congress won 44. Congress led UPA showed a 50% increase in its seats while the NDA raised its tally by 5% over 2014. What will happen this time (2024) is anybody's guess, but the media will be in frenzy and vocal chords and political appeasement will be at an all time high. The 4th of June will be another landmark date in the history of India and will have a very exponential bearing on India's balance of polity, society, economics and internal more than external relations.

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