Editorial

Polls versus opinion polls

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 4/5/2019 12:04:48 PM IST

 With the first phase of the seven-phase Lok Sabha election on April 11, poll surveys conducted by several media houses have turned into a rat race as each tries to appear authentic and reliable and hopefully able to sway voters. This happens in every election, when opinion polls rule the media coverage. In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, a media house suspended all poll surveys after a news channel ran a sting operation exposing how an agency commissioned to prepare the poll survey report, was ready to tweak the ‘margin of error’ to show one political party at an advantage. Ten other pollsters which also sought to ‘tweak’ the statistics to favour one party, had their dubious plans exposed. Indian voters choose their parliamentarians from various political parties and the party having majority eventually forms the government. Indians choose who will represent them in the Lok Sabha and therefore it is a parliamentary election. However, some media houses seem to suggest that the forthcoming election is a presidential election and not a parliamentary election. These government- friendly television channels are continually conducting the so-called poll surveys about who among the two- Modi or Rahul- do people most favour as prime minister. These channels do not see any value in focussing on issues affecting people or whether the government has fulfilled any of the poll promises or which party of alliance would be the likely alternative(s). These media houses have turned the election into a presidential election to tilt it in favour of Modi and his party on the strength of Modi’s higher rating. Even on seat projections, opinion poll surveys conducted by agencies funded by media houses have remained loyal to their glossary of words such as ‘margin of error’ or ‘swing votes’. Based on such highly technical sounding jargon, the poll surveys project the likely scenario. However this went horribly wrong in 2004 and 2009. The 2014 polls were nearly accurate mainly as the anti-incumbency factor was considerably huge enough that nothing could save the incumbent government from imminent defeat. A study of poll predictions found that the actual results for major alliances found opinion polls moving away from reality. According to the report, errors in predicting Lok Sabha election results are on the rise since 1998-99. Difference between actual election outcomes and the mean prediction is known as error. It was also noted that errors in poll predictions are difficult to explain as most elections in India are conducted without verifiable and authentic methodological protocols. This makes forecast extremely difficult in the context of Indian elections. The other is the prediction in number of seats since these estimates have horribly wrong. Thus, the higher the number of parties, the more difficult the predictions become. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections alone, 464 political parties had contested. The number would be around half during the 1998 elections. In the 2009 elections, there was a jump of 100 political parties. The second reason is the increase in the number of polling agencies which are not conducting the polls systematically and correctly which increased the chances of overall error. Most polling agencies do not disclose how they arrive at their prediction and their reputations would be tested when majority of people vote in the seven-phase polls.

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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