Barring entertainment, exit polls offer lose-lose options

Who loses if polls are wrong? Hundreds of people, given that the markets would invariably go down once the results are out on May 16

shantanu

Shantanu Datta | May 13, 2014



There was a time when elections were a backbreaking, time-consuming process – and counting more so. Each ballot had to be counted, and often recounted. And between the two arduous chapters of what sugar-sweet analysts genially call celebration or festival of democracy came the even more arduous – and tense and risky – phase of keeping the sealed ballot boxes out of harm’s way.

The ballot boxes – thousands of them, if it was a general election – had to be kept safe and sound.

It was a long process, and there was enough time to sneak in an exit poll or two. In the early 1990s, a time when the last of the dinosaurs reportedly still roamed around, satellite television had only so much reach. And no more. Large swathes of rural India had little use for it. That was because electricity, for most part, had little use for them.

A decade on, by the time serials and serial killers running on TV and cereal brands advertised on them began to become popular in the ‘other India’, internet had reached the same stage as TV was in the early nineties. It was still associated with chats, pornography and railway ticketing by a large section of Indians.

Another decade on – cut to the chase, it’s 2014 – we presume everyone knows everything about television, internet and Sunny Leone. But exit polls? What do we know about exit polls?

What does it bring to the table for the likes of us?

How does it help Indian democracy in its celebration or otherwise?

When was the last time we were asked a question by a pollster just we stepped, traipsed, tiptoed, breezed or came dancing out of the polling booth?

Oh, never? Then, when was the last time a friend or relative got to know someone who had heard of someone telling someone else that someone living in the vicinity of another neighbour’s colleague’s house had been popped the question?

Oh, never?

Never mind.

It’s good for the economy, many will tell us. After all, never have the Sensex and Nifty done such a tango during the dull phase of any government – elected or otherwise. The Sensex crossed 24,000 on Tuesday after hitting steady all-time highs since Friday – long before the exit polls were telecast, webcast, tweeted, messaged and Facebooked on Monday evening.

There was also the report about an anonymous buyer buying stocks worth a few thousand crores on Friday, when the exit polls were allegedly leaked.

On Tuesday, there was also the report that Operations Research Group (ORG), once an arm of the polling biggie ORG-MARG, has asked Times Now channel to not use the acronym ORG for its exit poll conducted by Operations Research Guild India Pvt Ltd (ORG-India) [read more on the controversy in a Newsminute report here].

This prompted quickfire tweets from rival channel editorial heads.

Now, the exit polls could either be right or wrong (though given the varying seat figures projected, chances of all polls being at the same time right or wrong is, well, impossible). Now, who wins if they are wrong? No one.

And who loses if they are wrong? Hundreds of people would, given that the markets would invariably go down once the results are out on May 16.

The other possibility: who wins if the exit polls are right? No one knows (perhaps the companies themselves).

And who loses if they are right? No one.

Now, put both on a set of scales and measure: who wins from exit polls eventually? Not many. Who loses from exit polls? A lot many.

So why can India not wait a while before the results – the actual results – are counted and outed, and then telecast, webcast, tweeted, texted and Facebooked?

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