Millennium Post

Enter EC, exit opinion polls

The election commission’s (EC) notice to media houses to not print or telecast exit polls disguised as opinion polls is commendable. The opinion poll released by a particular media house last week was an exit poll for all practical purpose, for, it also predicted results of 111 constituencies in which polling had been conducted. The timing of the release of such a poll is questionable as it came just days before the fifth phase of elections was scheduled, the biggest polling day this
season where 121 seats are to be contested. Pre-poll surveys and exit polls have become a regular feature for media houses during any election season. There have been serious accusations against media-sponsored pre-poll and post-poll surveys. It has been alleged that such polls have become a communication tool for political parties to shape public opinion. A sting operation done earlier this year put a big question mark on the authenticity of opinion polls in general. It revealed opinion polls can be manipulated in favour of ‘clients’ (read political parties) to influence voters. The outcome of opinion polls have drawn suspicion many times in the past. Often they have been proved outright wrong. For example, in the 2004 general election, various opinion polls conducted by various media houses predicted that the BJP-led NDA government would come back to power at the Centre. However, the results told a very differnt story.

Political parties time and again have called for ban on poll survey if the wind is not blowing in their favour. However, it seems that none of them are serious about such a ban. The opinion and exit polls were banned by poll panel in 1999 but the Supreme Court nullified the decision stating such a ban could be imposed only through an amendment in Parliament. Had our political leaders been so serious about banning these polls they would have  taken a more definitive step. Some countries have made release of exit polls during elections a criminal offence, some have banned it altogether.

While opinion or exit polls should not be banned completely, there has to be a level of transparency in the methods adopted. Rather than banning election surveys, serious questions must be asked to the agencies that conduct them. Is the methodology adopted to conduct pre poll survey up to date? Are opinion polls politically motivated? Such questions should be seriously addressed by the stakeholders of democracy. Media, on its part, as the fourth pillar of democracy, must not compromise on its reputation and come out with politically motivated surveys.
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