By R. Balashankar
Exit polls have given a clear edge to NDA, but they have generously consoled the Congress of catching up. In modern day politics, psephology has replaced astrology for clairvoyance. Psephologists like astrologers, only give us the trend, the sign board, it may or may not take up to the destination.
In the coalition era, election is more arithmetic and less chemistry. But ask the psephologist. He will give you, like an astrologer, an explanation for any result, real or perceived. But there are some clear patterns. If we analyse all the opinion polls and exit polls in the recent past, the prediction for the BJP was always less than what they actually got, and the projection for Congress was always higher than what they finally got. Why does this happen?
There is a huge lobby in Indian politics that thrives on instability, hung outcome and uncertainty. The common pattern that emerges in all exit polls point to this: a carnival of this hung lobby. But they claim to be scientific, statistical, broad samples, selection of very sensitive constituencies, shift patterns and so on and so forth-add up to a predic-tion as good as a speculation.
A quick anal-ysis of the track record of exit polls indicates that in the last round of assembly elections, none of the exit polls saw the clear victory of BJP in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The landslide BJP victory in MP was predicted at best as ?BJP has an edge?. The only state where they saw a clear verdict was Delhi, where incidentally the Congress was winning. It becomes obvious that wherever the NDA alliance was winning, the exit polls kept the final verdict hanging. They suggested neck and neck, close, tough fights. And the ?winner is? hung house! And promptly they ask for reactions. Politicians can only decline to comment saying this was hypothetical.
Congressmen never tire of pointing out that the exit polls for the last assembly elections were off the mark and so it would be this time. The early trend of the exit polls indicates a NDA comeback, though all polls contradict one another substantially.
Opinion polls and exit polls may be scientific and correct elsewhere in the world, where there is homogeneity in socio-political parameters. In India they vary from region to region.
In the last three elections, six weeks before polls the pollsters pegged NDA at the top of the chart and the battered Congress at the bottom. Midway through, the Congress graph climbs, the NDA plunges, with the forecasts suggesting (only suggesting) the NDA slowing down, peaking early and Congress fast catching up. This pitch is maintained until the final results are out. Polls-exit or opinion are like the astrology columns in daily newspapers. Read it for a tickle and leave it in the dustbin. And like astrologers they have those wide elbow room-the undecided and the 5 per cent error margin. In a rational analysis psephology is so much astrology as astrology is so much science. Time and other data are crucial for both. And they will predict ?other things remaining the same?-this will be the result. We all know other things never remain the same.
In a way, psepholo-gists are the modern day astrologers. Astrologers say astrology is science. So do claim the pollsters. They claim they are highly scientific.
In a rational analysis psephology is so much astrology as astrology is so much science.
Both have their claims. Both astrologers and pollsters clarify that their word is not final. It is at best a road map, an indicator, they forewarn. Yet, we keep our faith in them. People watch exit polls just to get a glimpse of the trend, eager as they are about the turns in politics. And today, psephology is a money spinner and they are mushrooming.
When it first came to India, two decades ago, pioneered by India Today-Pranoy Roy team, psephology was a new science, and all took it with a pinch of salt. Today, political parties cannot do without them. In a way exit poll is unfair. It has the capacity to mislead the voter. It can tilt the scales in a close contest.
Like astrol-ogers pollsters are known to give predictions to please their client. Taking the veil of 3-5 per cent error margin and undecided they go about browbeating the political marketplace. How else does one explain the huge variations in the exit poll figures from channel to channel. If it is science such variations have no place.
One interesting aspect about Indian psephology is that they seem to have taken cue from the Indian mateorological dep-artment. Like the latter, they never give a clear picture, like a good monsoon is seldom predicted, a clear verdict is rare to see. It could change by the hour.
The findings are always grey. Opinion and exit polls are hung on hung verdicts, till the result is announced.
Past trends, present indications and alliance arithmetic make up for an almost accurate poll prediction. In practice psephology too is only this but it is a thriving business.
Psephologists and market researchers are an integral part of our corporatised political system. One can have a made to order poll, to boost the morale of the cadre and damage the confidence of the opponent. And the winner is pollsters themselves.