I am a technical guy, I believe in numbers, facts and figures – basically anything that can be expressed or quantified numerically. But how do you quantify honesty? Or truthfulness? You simply can’t! There is no scale on which anyone’s truthfulness, trustworthiness or integrity can be measured, let alone expressing it in numbers and analyzing it. And that’s why I hate exit polls. They are intrinsically unscientific, illogical and they simply don’t mean anything in today’s times.
Now picture this, a guy comes out of the polling booth after exercising his democratic right and he is suddenly hounded by pollsters who want to know who has he voted for? He will be nagged further to reveal his name, his locality, his religion and of course his caste. Once the pollsters have interviewed enough people, a dataset that they call ‘sample size’, they try and extrapolate the existing information to predict a wider trend. But there’s one simple assumption on which the exit polls are based -Truthfulness of a voter.
Now let us try and analyze the entire exercise from the mind of a voter. Most of the voters in India come from rural or rurban areas where the ground realities are starkly different from what we see in the cities. Often the villages are ghettoized, with people of similar castes and religion, clustering up together. Such uniform arrangements also lead to uniform patterns in voting, hence if an individual or a family or a bunch of families decide to defy the expected pattern and it becomes known, there are high chances of them getting ostracized. A good example of it will be the case of Muslim women secretly voting for the BJP and not talking about it.
Often the regional parties are not happy ceding their states to national parties and hence those who vote for the national parties become a special target of the regional ones. We have seen such things happening in West Bengal where angry TMC supporters have roughed up people who voted for the BJP. The same thing happened in Uttar Pradesh as well. And I am not even talking about what communists do the voters who defy the expected patterns.
Also, a voter is not obligated to answer the questions correctly. Often the voters lie about who they voted for leading to bad sample data.
The veracity of exit polls has reflected in the way they fared in almost every election in the last decade. This is a worldwide phenomenon and pollsters have come to realize that they need a more data-oriented approach to analyze the trends rather than relying on what people say after coming out of polling booths.
But there is one very important effect of exit polls. Since they have mostly been wrong, often by huge margins, they have led to absurd rumors like EVMs in India are rigged. What pollsters and media do is that they create a certain expectation in people’s mind and hopes in politicians’ hearts and when results are not on the expected lines, EVMs are made the scapegoats.
Exit polls are great TRP turners for the media and that’s how they should be treated, a nice juicy scoop on TV. Exit polls cannot predict results and they certainly cannot reflect the trends.