A sting operation by a television channel has exposed the willingness of some agencies conducting opinion poll surveys to tweak their findings. They are ready to do it for a price. In other words, political parties willing to pay can have pre-poll survey results that suit them. When a multi-billion dollar company like Satyam could have its accounts “audited” by a multinational firm for a price before it went bust, it is not surprising that such agencies are willing to be bought. What is surprising is that the ruling Congress wants the Election Commission (EC) to ban such pre-poll surveys. It’s like using a hammer to kill a fly sitting on a glass surface.
Of course, the real reason that prompts the Congress to make such a demand is well-known. In the Assembly polls held late last year, the results were more or less on the lines suggested by the pre-poll surveys. Some survey reports that came out recently did not show the Congress fortunes in a good light. It fears that such surveys may have a domino effect on public opinion with disastrous consequences for the party. So it wants all such surveys banned by the Election Commission. That such a ban will adversely affect the growth of psephology as a science is of no consideration to the grand old party.
The solution lies in ruling out tweaking of survey findings by the agencies concerned. The Election Commission is in a position to not only evolve a code of conduct for such agencies but also ensure that it is followed strictly by them. The agencies concerned should be willing to open their methodology, the primary data they collected and the manner in which they came to their conclusion to checking by an agency like the EC. They should also be ready to face criminal and civil charges if they go astray. In other words, what is needed is transparency in their functioning, rather than an outright ban on pre-poll surveys. The ball is in the EC’s court.