How trustworthy are exit polls?

The Lok Sabha will receive Modi-lead NDA candidates to beat the numbers of majority of 272 needed out of 542. Thus predicts a consensus of exit polls.  The various polls have divergence in predictions especially in large constituencies like UP and Bengal.  The exit poll results given out  by NDTV forecast on the back of ‘Poll of Polls’ to get as near to truth as possible for the simple reason that there can be a vast variance in the methodology used to collect the data that can be relied upon with confidence.  Poll is at best an average by eliminating margins or error and each firm that use the system prides in their past performance and the ratings in accuracy.  The subject of polling needs to be understood in order not to dismiss the forecast published in advance as untrustworthy.  It is worth a look at the ways information is scanned from the votes pooled at polling stations.

In India one method of a voter approaching a polling booth is required to get a serial number from a register.   The register has his details and a serial number.  This is offered by a volunteer in a kiosk maintained by different political parties.  They have a sign outside e.g. Congress or BJP or AAP and their big sign like a Hand, Bicycle and flags displayed.  People will approach their choice desk to obtain the serial number.  The number then enables them to go inside and cast their vote either in a box or press a button of their choice in the machine.  This may give the Pollsters watching nearby some indication.  The voters could get the serial number from any kiosk but their mind takes them to their choice where they have clear signs of their party displayed. 

We cannot dismiss Polling as trivial because it is accurate social science with tenets of sample size.  One of the other methodologies used is by telephones.  In this survey the target samples are based on demographic and psychological information of the area and the voters.  A ‘Random Digital Dialing ‘system is used.  It works by selecting a district and use the area code and phone numbers with random last four digits. They approach people with a set of predetermined questions.  This method is also used by fraudsters who rob people of huge sums.

In tracking methods information about voting pattern is used by tracking voting segments and they slot them in various parties.   Computers help in making predictions.  They help not by dialing cell phones but by supply of spread sheets because computers are by law not allowed to dial numbers.   Quantum computers are now used that eliminate error and eliminate limitations of transistor based computers.  There are Polling firms who use artificial intelligence to interpret information.  These devices replace human planning, reasoning, problem solving, and manipulation social intelligence to compile information. There is a great deal of cost involved in this exercise if it is done truthfully and efficiently. 

Some hope that the polls now published giving BJP a clear run for victory are fallacious and the final counting will dismiss the predictions like it did in the last few times.   As an example in 2009 election a hung parliament was predicted in poll surveys.  The pollsters had help in compiling their data on the background of knowledge of anti-incumbency factor that creeps in after a period of governance, the family rule factor, and data they collected.  It proved wrong and congress won with a clear majority.  The exit polls of this election are a concern with the secularist political groups and they are hoping the last performance of exit polls will be repeated and BJP will not get the majority to form government.    I have to stake a pessimist view and concur with pollsters on the hypothesis that in the past elections it was eyeball to eyeball (Lex Tallionis) contest between Congress and BJP.  This time there is BJP vs. Alliance, based on ideology of Fascism and Secularism that divides people very sharply.  The Congress has ebbed its ‘Might’ factor, the diluted diversity and all its sacrificial family history faded in memory.    The other parties in alliance have a regional character and stand with their weight in their terrain of influence and not in places where the Congress party stands alone.

Let’s all hope for the best because there are many expectations from the future government that are crucial to the lives and living of people.