What to make of Indian opinion polls and our pollsters

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State assembly elections for several states have been completed recently. Now, attention has been shifted to the exit polls conducted by different pollsters. However, exit polls over the years have also attracted some negative reactions for their wrong predictions.

Why are opinion polls and their prediction viewed with apprehension?

This is due to the opacity around the methodology they use. 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 those suspicions.

What is the situation globally?

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.

Despite these shortcomings why are they still useful?

Exit polls are a statistical estimate so are subject to uncertainty.

Their findings carry more weight than newsroom or drawing-room speculation.

Also, since the 1980s, exit polls have had a better record than pre-poll surveys in India, and they have been largely correct in predicting election winners.

Source– This post is based on the article “What to make of Indian opinion polls and our pollsters” published in The Hindu on 26th Feb 2022.

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