Opinion polls in India | Timeline

Opinion polls to study Indian national elections emerged in the 1950s. The proliferation of electronic media and the rapid monetisation in the 1990s provided momentum to polling agencies to venture into opinion polling on national electoral politics and state election contests.

An opinion poll (pre-poll survey) is a survey of public opinion from a particular sample. They are usually designed to represent the opinions of a population by conducting a series of questions.

Exit polls vs opinion Polls

An election exit poll is a survey based on what the voters say while they exit the polling stations after casting their votes.

Opinion polls are generally conducted before the election, asking people questions about their opinion on who is likely to win an election.

What to make of Indian opinion polls and our pollsters – The Hindu – 1st Mar 22

Opacity around the methodology: No pollster other than Lokniti-CSDS provides details of its methodology. For example -How they conduct their surveys, what the margin of errors for vote-shares are, and the assumptions made while converting vote-share estimates into seat predictions all remain hidden.

The lack of disclosure around their funding only serves to heighten the suspicions.

Pre-poll surveys in India – Explained, pointwise – 8th Nov 2021

i). Growing weaponization of opinion polls: In the last few years, political leaders and parties have weaponized opinion polling to shape and influence, rather than just reflect, public preferences. Election outcomes are impacted by fake pre-poll surveys.

ii). Effective at misleading public: Since these polls carry a facade of objectivity, voters are more easily misled.

iii). Unclear survey methodology: Most polls published by the Indian media, barring a few, do not disclose basic details of their survey methods, and do not make their data public.

iv). Most people judge a survey purely on their sample size with the assumption that a large sample size signifies a good survey. The notion of a sample size is highly misunderstood. The selection of the sample is far more important than the size.

v). The 255th report of the Law Commission has also called for regulation of opinion poll for three reasons- a). To ensure that credentials of the organizations conducting the poll is made known to the public, b) public has a chance to assess the validity of the methods used in conducting the poll, c) public is adequately aware that the poll is in the nature of forecasts or predictions.

Why opinion polls need regulation – Indian Express – 9th Feb 22

ECI feels that opinion polls interfere with free and fair elections due to sponsored paid news which is normally biased. Such polls are non-transparent, as they provide very little information about the methodology used to conduct these polls. This results in spreading disinformation and influencing the audience for their own agenda, which is also an Electoral offence under IPC section 171(c).

So, ECI called two all-party meetings in 1997 and 2004 for the ban on opinion polls. Although there was unanimous demand for a ban, the question was whether the ban should apply from the announcement of the poll schedule or the date of notification.

In 1998, the ECI issued guidelines that were challenged in the SC. The court questioned ECI on how it would enforce the guidelines in the absence of a law. So, later on, ECI withdrew the guidelines.

In 2008, the matter resurfaced when political parties approached ECI to ban on opinion and exit polls. The ECI advised them to raise the matter in Parliament, as it required legislative amendment. Parliament then banned exit polls but not opinion polls (126A, RP Act).

In 2013, the debate on banning opinion polls was revived when the law ministry advised the ECI to once again seek the view of all political parties.

Views of other stakeholders

  • Apart from ECI and political parties, the Press Council of India also supported the ban. It believed that the print media is being exploited by certain individuals or groups. These groups misguided the voters on the basis religion, caste, ethnicity etc.
  • In a sting operation by a television news channel in 2014, 11 polling companies were caught red-handed fraudulently manipulating surveys.

Why opinion polls need regulation – Indian Express – 9th Feb 22

In Union of India vs ADR, 2003, SC has emphasised, “Democracy cannot survive without free and fair elections”

In PUCL vs Union of India, 2003; NOTA judgment, 2013, it said that Free and fair elections is the basic structure of the Constitution.

In Mohinder Singh Gill vs CEC of India, 1977, Court said that “The heart of the parliamentary system is free and fair elections”

What to make of Indian opinion polls and our pollsters – The Hindu – 1st Mar 22

Opinion polls can go wrong even in countries with a long tradition of polling like UK and USA but their wrong forecasts are seen as errors. While in India, a wrong forecast by a pollster is seen as evidence of fraud or a scam.

This is because these countries have greater transparency and self-regulatory institutions that lend greater credibility to their pollsters.

Why opinion polls need regulation – Indian Express – 9th Feb 22

Self-regulatory body: India can adopt an independent regulator, like the British Polling Council. Under which all polling agencies should disclose for scrutiny the sponsor, methodology, time frame, quality of training of research staff, etc.

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