Exit polls are known to get crucial regional public sentiments wrong – such mistakes have embarrassed polling agencies in the past.
- Exit Polls have historically failed to gauge the voter’s sentiments on more than one occasions, most notable in 2004 and 2009.
- Almost all exit polls have given PM Modi-based BJP campaign an edge over regional parties.
- Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP was touted to come back with majority in 2004, but Sonia Gandhi-led UPA left psephologists red-faced.
- Similarly, public fooled pollsters in 2009, when they predicted a tight fight but UPA comfortably returned to power.
Exit polls began capturing interest of India in the late 1980s with a new breed of analytical journalists called psephologists started analysing citizen pulse and conducting opinion surveys to gauge the results of voting.
In 1996, National broadcaster Doordarshan’s endorsement of exit polls (done by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)) gave the exercise legitimacy. With television entering every household in 1990s, interest in political uncertainty made exit polls popular among masses.
CSDS’ exit poll turned out to be accurate in 1996 predicting numbers close enough to comprise a lack of majority which might result into hung parliament. That is exactly what happened with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, HD Deve Gowda and IK Gurjral entering and exiting PMO in quick succession.
But in the years after, exit polls have had mixed results, having reached close to the perfect-ish predictions of 1996 – and in some cases falling embarrassingly away from actual results.
So how accurate are they?
Election surveys in 1998 gave BJP and allies the advantage with a range of 214 to 249 which was near accuracy as NDA won 252.
Surveys from 1999 Lok Sabha polls however were overkill on BJP’s victory predicting more than 300, but with all its allies, BJP fell short of the 300-mark in the lower house.
Incumbent PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ‘shining’ image was miscalculated by agencies. All exit polls predicted Vajpayee to retain PMO with an easy majority.
But what happened was sheer embarrassment for India’s psephologists – NDA failed to even reach 200 and Congress formed government with a 222-seat coalition with parties like SP and the BSP.
2009 was another failed prediction season for the surveyors. What the exit polls predicted was a tight contest between UPA and NDA with sub-200 scores for both the major government hopefuls.
But that prediction turned out deeply flawed and fooled by the public when UPA retained popular vote with 262 seats and NDA could muster only 159. Consecutive misleading numbers also made exit polls suffer a loss of credibility.
2014 was redemption of sorts for psephologists after two haywire prediction seasons. The pollsters successfully gauged Modi wave and predicted close to 270 to 290 seat majority for BJP.
BJP’s 282 seat clean sweep was in line with the exit polls. However, the predictions failed on observing the opposition tally of 59 which was much short of the predicted 97 to 135 for UPA.
Most exit polls have opined that the difference between the ‘Modi Wave’ of 2014 and the ‘Modi Undercurrent’ of 2019 is roughly 10 percent in BJP’s seat share.
Exit polling survey agencies that put NDA at above 300 mark are Times Now (306), Republic-Jan ki Baat (305), NDTV (300), News 18 – IPSOS (336), and India Today-Axis My India (339).
Those giving a sub-300 score but majority to NDA’s hopes include India News (298); Republic-CVoter (287), IANS CVOTER (287).
Notably, there are only two exit polls that opine NDA falling short of majority: Neta-News X (242) and ABP-Nielsen (267).
Will India’s psephologists build or lose credibility in 2019?
Exit polls have been known to flop in the past and there is a big chance that the psephologists and exit poll masters will get it wrong again. With most predicting 300+ seats for NDA, a strong regional party undercurrent, as touted by the opposition, might overturn the claims.
With counting due in less than 72 hours, results on 23rd May will clear out the confusion, and put the skills of India’s biggest election analysts to the test.
- Most exit polls have defined the difference between ‘Modi wave of 2014’ and ‘Modi undercurrent of 2019 as a reduction of 10 percent.
- Polling agencies do not expect regional parties to impact BJP’s seat share in spite of a much better campaign of many in comparison to 2014.
- Results in key states like UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha vary greatly and have left many surprised.
- Only two exit polls have predicted BJP-led NDA falling short of majority in 2019.