Sunday, October 2, 2022

Science behind polling

Recent polls conducted by some agencies on the likely outcome of elections in five states-UP, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa- seem to suggest that the pollsters have concluded that prime minister Narendra Modi is the winner; even if that also means the ruling BJP will not sweep the polls even in its stronghold UP. The pollsters funded by some TV firms seem to have perfected the art of playing dubiously as safe as possible with deviation in highlighting Modi’s popularity vis-a-vis other opposition leaders. In UP, the BJP is no longer looking at another landslide but a very tough fight against a resurgent Samajwadi Party(SP) to which it has lost many leaders. If at all the BJP manages to beat the SP in a close finish, it will only because of its unlimited material resources and the huge poll bonanza announced by prime minister Narendra Modi made before the ECI belatedly announced poll notification. In Punjab the Congress is still fighting a resurgent AAP and also internal differences between followers of chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi and trouble-maker PCC president Navyot Singh Sidhu. Surprisingly, the former chief minister Capt.Amarinder Singh who has allied with the BJP, does not seem to have created much impact. However, it is early to predict the outcome but in all probability, Capt.Amarinder has been reduced more to a vote-cutter of the Congress than being able to come up with enough MLAs to form a government. By gunning for Sidhu every time and vowing to defeat him, Amarinder has only sounded petty and lowered his image in the eyes of the voters in Punjab. In Uttarakhand, the Congress appears to be doing quite well, mainly after the defection of several BJP leaders. However, the Congress is still far from being in any position to claim victory. The BJP has a strong organisational cadre and unlimited cash and material resources. In Goa it is almost the same story where the BJP appears to be holding on to its advantage despite rebellion and defections by some of its well known leaders. In Manipur, the Congress has a good chance of upsetting the Biren-Singh led BJP coalition government only if it does not claim victory too early. The opinion polls are not exactly a reflection of the true intentions of the voters since it is still a long way before polling and many things can still happen in between. The opinion polls have many weaknesses while attempting to make forecasts in a complex situation. In such a setting, the polls can be used as covert instruments by political parties to make seat predictions and thereby influence the electorate. The science of polling is sound, based on solid statistical theories. It can be statistically shown that, in a homogeneous socio-economic-political condition, a sample size of 1,004 is enough to estimate the vote percentages with an error margin of 3%. Thus, all one needs to do is divide the country or a state into several such ‘homogeneous’ regions and sample roughly a thousand respondents from each region. Anyway even if poll predictions to favour BJP are way off the mark, what has been used to offset any unfavourable situation for the BJP has not changed. In fact the use of central agencies by the BJP against uncomfortable opposition leaders is still on track.