Elections 2019: Let the speculations begin

Exit Polls

India is the fastest growing economy and the biggest and most vibrant democracy in the world. And next year, the great carousel of democratic elections is going to be held again.With over 814 million eligible voters, the seventeenth Lok Sabha elections in India are going to be a grand affair. Elections will be held for 543 seats in the lower house on a first past the post basis.7 national, 52 state and 1785 unrecognised parties will be in the fray in the upcoming elections.It is going to be a no holds barred contest with all parties giving it their best attempt to take the most constituencies and form the government.

While the election results may be open to speculation, one thing that is going to be a safe bet is that is the fact that due to the many dimensions of voter behaviour and the wide diversity in voter aspirations and expectations, no single party will be able to reach the halfway mark and form a government on its own. A coalition government with like minded parties coming together to make a government seems to be the most probable result of a fractured mandate.

As the build up to the general elections, that are likely to be held in April or May next year, reaches fever pitch, media outlets and social organisations have already started trying to gauge the voter’s mood. Debates, discussions, surveys and polls have already started to be carried out across the country. Exit polls are another very famous method used by some organisations to check voter’s behaviour. But exit poll results cannot be taken into account until after the polls obviously.

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While surveys and opinion polls are the most popular techniques used by organisations to predict the voter’s inclinations, their results are not always accurate. Indeed many opinion polls have been way off the mark in trying to gauge voting patterns in the past few years like the 2015 elections in Delhi where the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) managed to get a landslide victory even though all major opinion polls had predicted a comfortable win for the BJP.

For the uninitiated, an opinion poll is a sort of survey of a representative sample of a larger population. This sample of people representing a larger electorate is asked questions regarding their voting preferences to gauge the voting behaviour of the larger constituency. Taking the information based on the information provided by the sample population, the past voter behaviour, emerging trends, political inclinations of first time voters (over fifteen crore first time voters participated in the 2014 general elections, a significant number in terms of vote bank) and traditional voting patterns typically based on geography, caste, class, economic and education factors; polling experts try to predict the direction in which the public support will swing.

Of course because of such high stakes and so many variables, it is very difficult to come to a unanimous conclusion and as a result, opinion polls conducted by different social organisations and media companies throw up varying numbers.

In contrast exit poll results are much more reliable as they take a random sample of actual voters, people who have already cast their vote to represent a larger population and ask them which party they have voted for. This survey is more scientific compared to an opinion poll as the data acquired is much more reliable. And voters are not likely to change their mind after they have voted ( it would be of no use even if they did). It is still a challenge to model the polling patterns of a whole country based on a large number of small samples. But these variables can be harmonised and problems mitigated by expert poll watchers. As such, even though not a hundred per cent accurate, exit poll results are our best bet when trying to gauge voting behaviour among an electorate as large as India.

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Though fast and reliable, exit polls are also the most frustrating as we have to wait not only till the votes have been cast by the people to find out who they voted for, but also because we have to wait till the final phase of the voting has been completed. This restriction is thanks to the Section 126A of the Representation of The Peoples Act of 1954 which bans the publishing of any exit poll from the time of the beginning of the first phase of voting until after at least half an hour after the final phase of polling has been closed.

The Modi government came to power riding high in the Modi wave which swept the nation that was reeling under a stagnant government of the Congress for the past ten years. The anti incumbency wave coupled with policy paralysis and crashing international markets due to recession drowned the Congress’s hopes of survival and forming the government for the third consecutive term.

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