Why opinion polls need regulation

News:  Despite EC’s efforts, the broad consensus from political parties, opinion and exit polls continue to undermine elections.

What is the stand of the Election Commission of India on opinion polls?

ECI feel 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.

What are the other stakeholders who want a ban on the opinion polls?

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.

Read here: Credibility of exit/opinion polls
What is the viewpoint of the Supreme Court on opinion polls?

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 is the approach adopted by other countries on opinion polls?

In most democracies, opinion and exit polls are common during elections. However, restrictions are also imposed in many countries, extending from 2-21 days prior to the poll like Canada, France, Italy, Poland, Turkey, Argentina, etc.

What is the way forward?

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.

Source: This post is based on the article “Why opinion polls need regulation” published in Indian Express on 9th February 2022.

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