The Dynamic Power of Exit Polls: Decoding the Unpredictable

As soon as the voting ends, all eyes will be on the exit polls. At times the predictions are accurate and predicts the right winner. However, there are instances where the predictions emerged as inaccurate. In this article, let us understand what exit polls are in reality, what laws regulate them and some other facts.

Exit Polls

Understanding The Exit Polls

Exit polls are surveys conducted by researchers to ask voters how they voted after they have cast their votes at the polling centers. These surveys aim to forecast the outcome of the election by using the data collected from voters on election day. Numerous Indian organizations conduct these surveys.

How are Opinion Polls different from Exit Polls?

Before a vote, a voter behavior study known as an opinion poll is carried out to learn about the attitudes of everyone, including potential voters. Exit polls, on the other hand, are conducted right after people have voted on election day.

History of Exit Polls in India: When did Exit Polls start in India?

The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in Delhi created exit surveys for use in India in the 1960s. The first significant media poll survey emerged in the 1980s, with election experts Prannoy Roy and David Butler collaborating. The official satellite television broadcasts also began airing exit polls in 1996 after CSDS initiated nationwide exit polls for Doordarshan.

Restrictions on Broadcasting Exit Polls: Why aren’t they allowed to be broadcast before voting ends?

According to Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, exit polls are prohibited from being broadcasted from the start of voting until half an hour after the voting concludes. This law states that “no person shall conduct any exit poll and publish or publicize by means of the print or electronic media… the result of any exit poll during such period… in the case of a general election, the period may commence from the hour fixed for the commencement of the poll on the first day of the poll and continue till half an hour after closing of the poll.”

Anyone violating these provisions may face imprisonment or a fine for up to two years or both.

So, while exit polls can provide insights into potential election outcomes, their accuracy and reliability can vary. It’s always interesting to see how close they come to predicting the actual results on the day of counting.

Why Exit Polls Get Criticized?

Critics argue that agencies conducting exit polls can introduce bias in the form of preferences, wording of questions, timing, methodology used, and the type of sample chosen.

Concerns have been expressed concerning the sample group’s economic position, demographic patterns, and the incorporation of a number of additional variables in the tabulation of the survey data.

Political parties also allege that exit polls are funded by their rivals and may not accurately reflect people’s sentiments or opinions.

When Did the Election Commission Issue Guidelines for Exit Polls?

The Election Commission (EC) issued guidelines under Article 324 of the Constitution, restricting news channels and newspapers from publishing the results of opinion and exit polls between 5 PM on February 14 and 5 PM on March 7, 1998, during the general elections. The first phase was scheduled between February 16 and the final phase on March 7.

The EC also directed media to disclose the sample size of voters, describe their methodology, indicate the likelihood of errors, and reveal the background of the agency conducting the survey when publicizing the results of exit and opinion polls.

Did the Election Commission Attempt to Regulate Exit Polls Again?

In 1999, before the Lok Sabha elections, the EC attempted to reinstate its 1998 guidelines. After some sections of the media refused to comply with its orders, the EC took the matter to court. The case was referred to the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Bench, expressing concerns about the constitutional validity of the EC’s guidelines. After the bench indicated that the Election Commission could not enforce such guidelines without constitutional approval, the EC withdrew its plan.

In 2004, the Election Commission approached the Central Law Ministry with the support of six national and 18 regional parties to amend the Representation of the People Act. This was aimed at imposing a ban on both exit and opinion polls during a specified period. After partial acceptance of the recommendation in February 2010, only exit polls were restricted through Section 126 (A) of the Representation of the People Act.

In November 2013, the Election Commission sought advice from political parties to impose a ban on opinion polls as well. Except for the BJP, all political parties supported the suggestion to ban opinion polls on public surveys from the date of notification until the end of voting. While this proposal was sent to the Ministry of Law, no action has been taken on it so far.

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