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How correct are opinion polls?

Poornima Joshi
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Not very, going by surveys in the past

The propensity of the Indian electorate to prove opinion polls wrong will be judged exactly a month from now, on May 16.

Till then, Narendra Modi is deemed Prime Minister in newsrooms with yet another poll survey, this time by NDTV, predicting a windfall for the BJP.

The certainty of the BJP’s victory is as pronounced as the prospect of the Congress showing its worst ever performance in the Lok Sabha.

The euphoria has a sense of déjà vu. Sample an article titled “Atal Wave” in India Today of February 9, 2004: “With the Lok Sabha to be dissolved in the first week of February, what appeared to be a tiny wave in August 2003 seems to have crystallised into a tsunami.

Sure win?

The country’s most exhaustive election tracker, the India Today-ORG Marg Mood of the Nation Poll, predicts 330-340 seats for the NDA, almost 30 seats more than the 304 it attained in 1999.” It counted the Congress’s expected misfortunes in the same emphatic fashion:

“Accompanying the saffron surge is its mirror image, a slide for the Congress and allies, with the poll predicting 105-115 seats…

“If all goes as per the BJP plan, the Congress will reach its lowest level, 4 per cent below that of the BJP. It is by far the worst drubbing the 119-year old party will ever record in its history.”

Expectations dip

The expectations, including those in the stated magazine, came down as the elections advanced but the BJP’s lead was consistently maintained just as the Congress continued to be projected as the loser.

There are catchphrases identically employed in the media coverage in both the elections.

NDA was mostly “within sniffing distance” and “safely home” while “drubbing”, “losing” and “rout” were synonymous with the Congress.

Even in 2009, when the BJP’s resident astrologers-cum-analysts were predicting that “haar nahin, apmanjanak haar hogi (we will not just lose, we will be humiliated in this election)”, none of pollsters predicted the scale of the Congress’ victory.

It was, at best, a close contest with an edge to the Congress.

The virtual election having been won in television studios and newsrooms, it is now only a matter of time before the real India speaks.

It is not over till then.

(This article was published on April 15, 2014)
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