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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wrong opinion on opinion polls


SRAY AGARWAL | Issue Dated: November 17, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Opinion Poll | BJP | Congress | Narendra Modi | Muslim Voters |

The United Progressive Alliance, the governing coalition of India led by the Congress party had recently written to the Election Commission favouring a ban on opinion polls during elections as the random surveys were "erroneous", "lack credibility" and might have been "manipulated" by vested interests. BJP has severely attacked Congress over their opinion. Even BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on November 4 pleaded to the masses to "reject the anti-democratic Congress not only in an opinion poll but at the polling booth as well." Thus, the political debate on whether or not to ban opinion polls has been sweeping the nation in a big way.

Obviously, all surveys are filled with errors – and that's not just as a matter of speaking. Statistically, all well researched surveys or polls come with a standard error clause. And when it comes to opinion polls, the chances of such standard errors being significant are quite high, especially in case of a nation where the demographic is highly varied and our population runs into more than a billion. But banning opinion polls altogether because they can be erroneous, is itself a silly opinion. By those standards, the same is true for even elections in any democratic system – that they can be erroneous. Should it mean that elections should ergo be banned? Clearly, this is pointy logic.

Across the world, opinion polls play a huge role before actual elections. It is always interesting to see the fight between Democrats and Republicans in America and many opinion polls like those by Gallup, credibly sum up the civil sentiment before the election. Not only do such opinion polls allow the government to read the pulse of the nation but also allow citizens to understand the underlying vibes that might be running across the nation for and against political parties. Playing the Devil's advocate, what if opinion polls are seriously fabricated? Won’t such polls mislead audiences? Yes, they would! But that is where the government should pitch in. Instead of banning opinion polls, the government should educate people about such polls and the errors they may carry. The government should allow their electorate to make an educated opinion about opinion polls. So much so, the government with the help of the Election Commission could also float an independent agency that could conduct independent surveys and opinion polls across the nation and present the results before the nation, which could be further be audited independently. Unlike private opinion polls, this very agency could be run by a renowned and respected panel that could ensure transparency and credibility of such surveys and would also make the details available to the public when required. Of course, some countries do ban such opinion polls just before the elections so that voters can vote without any biases and prejudice. For instance, Canada prohibits the telecast of results of opinion surveys in the final three days before a poll closes; and that's the same case with a few other nations that prohibit polls a few days before the final day or even a few hours before polling starts.

However, the Election Commission’s (EC) responded to the issue very actively. Before coming to any conclusion, it has tried to collect views of political parties on pre-poll opinion polls which has ignited a war of words between major parties. While Congress and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have favoured a ban, the BJP has opposed the ban completely. In the same lines, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) opined that polls could be conducted but results should be on hold.

At the same time, the SC and EC could make sure that no contesting parties or leaders should be allowed to talk about opinion polls or use them as their election agendas – this could perhaps be confined to discussions among critics and the common man. Calling for a complete ban on opinion polls would not only be a disgrace to the democracy but would set very wrong precedent for the future... As we said, let's make an educated opinion on opinion polls this time.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017