If the results of exit polls are to be believed, the BJP led National Democratic Alliance is all set to make a clean sweep at the recently held India’s elections to the Parliament. Private polling commissioned by Indian media outlets points to a second term for the incumbent, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), although, given the patchy record of these polls, which have been wrong in past elections, we won’t know for sure until later this week.
It is, however, interesting to note that the most enthusiastic results have been thrown up by exit polls conducted in association with media houses who are perceived widely as cheerleaders of the Modi regime.
But if Modi does return to power, what might Modi 2.0 mean for India? One way of trying to answer that question is to compare campaign 2019 to the one that unfolded five years ago.
In 2014, when Modi first ran for national office — he was already a major regional figure by then, running western Gujarat state for over a decade — his campaign was dominated by his promises to usher in a sort of economic renaissance: Modi spoke of reforms to, among other things, make India an easier place to do business, make it better at generating jobs for the millions of young Indians who enter the workforce each year and to clean house to stamp out corruption.
All exit polls released at the conclusion of the seven-phase 17th general election predicted a second term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The counting of votes will take place on May 23. Most polls indicated minor to considerable setback for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh where it won 71 of 80 seats in 2014, but they were in agreement that the party would firmly hold on to its strongholds in the north and west and make considerable gains in West Bengal.
In southern States barring Karnataka, the BJP is projected to trail far behind opponents. The Congress and its allies are projected to make significant gains compared to the historic low they hit in 2014, but will end up some distance away from the halfway mark of 272 seats in the 543-strong Lok Sabha, according to these polls.
The polls predicted between 242 to 365 for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and between 77 and 164 for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA). Parties that are unattached to either side, which include the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) whose coalition in Uttar Pradesh is resisting the BJP, could get between 69 and 125 seats, according to various polls.
Exit polls have a long history of going wrong in India. According to Praveen Chakravarty, chairperson of the Congress Data Analytics Department, who compared exit polls with actual outcomes posted on Twitter: “~80% of exit poll seat predictions for all parties in large state elections since 2014 are wrong.” Exit polls are generally considered more accurate than opinion polls conducted before actual voting.
Around the world also, the credibility of opinion polls and exit polls has taken a beating in recent years. Almost all polls in the Australian election last week got the outcome wrong, and similar was the fate of polls during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Brexit. But what is common between these polls that went wrong was that all of them under-reported the support for conservative and ultra-nationalist positions. Indian exit polls on Sunday uniformly predicted a massive surge in favour of the Hindu nationalist BJP.
The exit poll projections indicate that Mr. Modi’s campaign to turn the election into a referendum on his persona rather than the performance of his five-year term has been successful.
First up is the News 18-IPSOS poll, the results of which say that the NDA is all set for a landslide victory bagging as many as 336 seats with BJP contributing a lion’s share of 276! This poll has restricted the UPA’s tally to a meager 82. The anchor of the show was seen merrily flying over a CGI globe in a VFX helicopter while the results popped up on screen!
Next up is the Republic-CVoter poll that says that the NDA will get 287 seats while the UPA will be reduced to 128. It gives the Mahagathbandhan 40 seats and others 87. But, interestingly, Republic has another poll with Jan Ki Baat, according to which the NDA will bag between 295-315 seats, while the UPA will win between 122 and 12 seats. The BJP alone is set to score between 254 and 274 seats according to this poll. It is still not clear why they needed to conduct two polls. Not to be outdone by News 18’s helicopter, panelists on Republic’s show drove into the studio in swanky cars!
Another poll that enthusiastically predicts the return of the Modi regime is the Times Now VMR poll that gives the NDA 306 seats, while says that the UPA could win as many as 132 seats. Cocking a snook at News 18’s helicopter and Republic’s cars, Times Now roped in a blue CGI Iron Man to do somersaults as results popped up!
The India Today-Axis poll gave BJP and allies a whopping 339-365 seats, while giving the Congress and allies 77-108 seats. The News 24-Chanakya poll is meanwhile predicting a clean sweep for the Modi regime, especially in the heartland with wins in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana and Delhi. Meanwhile, the News X Neta poll gives the NDA 242 seats while it gives the UPA 162 seats. It gives the SP-BSP-RLD 43 seats while giving others 88 seats.
While almost all polls have written off the Mahagathbandhan, the ABP-Nielen poll is sticking its neck out and predicting a huge victory for the SP-BSP-RLD alliance in Uttar Pradesh, predicting they will win 56 seats! Over all this poll says NDA could win as many as 267 seats, while the UPA will cobble up 127 seats, leaving others with 148 seats.
TMC Chief Mamata Banerjee has rubbished the exit poll results as gossip, tweeting, “I don’t trust Exit Poll gossip. The game plan is to manipulate or replace thousands of EVMs through this gossip. I appeal to all Opposition parties to be united, strong and bold. We will fight this battle together.”
Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha also echoed similar sentiments in his tweet saying,T”he silent voter will be king on May 23 rd 2019. The ‘fear factor’ playing havoc with respondents to pollsters in an ugly polarized election. Ridiculous #ExitPolls , almost laughable. UPA > NDA when the ‘real counting’ happens.”
But given how miserably exit polls have missed the mark in the past, it is best to exercise caution while accepting these results. Also, few journalists today have the grace to apologise like NDTV chief Pronnoy Roy did in November 2015 for getting the Bihar results wrong.
In his brilliant analysis of how and why exit polls get it wrong in The New Indian Express, Shankkar Aiyar writes, “… exit polls can overstate the case of vocal voters and miss the silent vote—and in India, there is an another factor, false responses driven by fear of retribution. Also, a higher turnout can skew assumed weightages, leading to erroneous calls on trajectory and/or tally. In fact, the impact is aggravated when the data is drilled to deliver outcomes at a granular level.” He cites examples on 2004 and 2009, when pollsters got the trajectory and tally wrong. Aiyar further explains, “Exit polls also tend to get it right when there is a clear edge for one side at the outset of the election. On the flip side, exit polls can go haywire in close contests and when a thin sample is extrapolated to generate conclusions.”
In an age where many a newsroom has dedicated itself to being a mouthpiece of the ruling dispensation, equating in the process all voices and acts of dissent as anti-national, it may be surmised that the declaration of positive results is perhaps their way of keeping their political masters happy and curry whatever last few favours they can till the actual results are declared.