Pre-Election Opinion Polls Are Best Done Away With - The New Indian Express

Pre-Election Opinion Polls Are Best Done Away With

Published: 30th March 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 30th March 2014 07:40 AM

Opinion polls should be called ‘opinion about polls’ because only vested interests and personal opinions are being palmed off as a projection of people’s will. In a recent poll, a leading news channel not just predicted around 230 seats for NDA, but also chose post-poll allies to raise the number to 280, and anointed Narendra Modi as PM. It was conducted days before candidates had been announced by any of the parties. The sample for the survey comprised two lakh people from an electorate of nearly 80 crore.

In 2004, the same channel conducted another poll predicting 300 seats for NDA. The BJP ended up with 138, and NDA with 180. Gujarat was used to substantiate the claims of ‘India Shining’, and it was predicted that BJP would win 24 out of 26 seats from the state. Congress bagged 10 seats as opposed to the projected two. A news magazine went on to say, “…what appeared to be a tiny wave in August 2003 seems to have crystallised into a tsunami.” The group claimed its survey to be the most exhaustive opinion poll, and predicted around 340 seats for NDA. “The Congress will reach its lowest level,” the magazine shouted. The result: there was a UPA government for the next 10 years.

In 2009, there was again a conspiracy to influence public opinion. Four leading surveys gave Congress around 150 seats, and UPA between 200 and 250. BJP was shown to be only marginally around with 140 seats. The Congress went on to get 206 seats, and the BJP’s was down to 116.

Either these surveys are motivated (this time they are ‘Modi-vated’) or their methodologies are wrong. If the methodologies are wrong, they need serious correction. If there’s no attempt at correction, clearly the problem is motivation. Media as a pillar of democracy cannot let itself be compromised. Pre-election opinion polls should be banned so that voters are not misled. People barely believe in such propaganda, but because opinion polls make the media structurally weaker, they would best be done away with.

Not just Congress and BJP, these surveys shortchange regional parties too. In the Delhi elections last year, none of the opinion polls came any closer to the final results. In 1995, a leading Hindi newspaper had sounded the demise of Lalu Prasad’s career. His party bagged 167 out of 320 seats—45 more than the previous polls.

The Congress, in talking openly about this manipulation, is now being seen by BJP as a force curbing the freedom of expression. Arun Jaitley, who was the law minister in 2003, had suggested banning of opinion polls. Since then, corporate money began pouring into the media coffers, and various media agencies started relaying biased results of such polls; the party has taken a U-turn on the matter.

If the Election Commission thinks exit polls are illegal, opinion polls also need to be given a serious thought. The RSS, which threw out MF Husain from the country and banned one of its own leaders Jaswant Singh’s book, is suddenly talking about freedom of expression. Where was this idea of freedom when historian Wendy Doniger’s book was pulped by Penguin under threats from RSS factions?

The media also has been playing up the ‘freedom of expression’ card without realising that great responsibility has to accompany such freedom. I wonder why media houses go into a huddle whenever any accusation of foul play crops up. It’s surprising to see famous TV anchors come to Modi’s rescue whenever the 2002 riots are mentioned. “But he has been given a clean chit,” they quip. That one of his ministers has been convicted along with several others points at Modi’s complicity. How come the same anchors cried foul when the victims of Naroda Patiya had not got justice?

We have seen corruption in every sphere of public life. Why should it then be assumed that the media is inhabited by saints alone? Self-reflection is the first step towards self-correction. 

Dalmia is chairperson of Grievance Cell, All India Congress Committee

Follow her on Twitter @ArchanaDalmia

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