FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
This edition of INDIA TODAY comes to you at a time when the Government is leading a move to ban opinion polls ahead of state or national elections. Its contention is that such polls are not credible, can be fudged to favour certain political parties, and influence voting choices by pushing voters towards the projected winners. The BJP’s response to this is that only a losing side wants opinion polls stopped, which is ironic, considering it had been on board in 2004 when an all-party meeting convened by the Election Commission ( EC) had unanimously agreed that opinion polls should be banned from the date of notification of the polls.
The existing EC guidelines say that opinion poll results must be aired up to 48 hours before the end of the first phase of polling. In the forthcoming Assembly elections, voting starts in Chhattisgarh on November 11, which means opinion polls for all five states must be aired by November 9. It’s an absurd ruling considering Delhi will go to the polls only on December 4 and votes for all five states will be counted on December 8, almost a month after the opinion poll results are made public. Exit poll results, on the other hand, can be shared only half an hour after the entire voting process is over, as per the Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 2009.
This magazine was the first in India to print opinion polls. Thirty-five years ago, we had asked Indian Market Research Bureau, an independent Mumbai-based agency, to carry out an opinion poll in the four metros (June 16-30, 1978). In 1980, we were the first magazine to take opinion polls seriously when we predicted Indira Gandhi would return to power after the disastrous Janata Party rule when almost everyone else was expecting the opposite.
Opinion polls are recognised around the world as a legitimate journalistic exercise. While polls sometimes turn out to be incorrect—our magazine, too, has been wrong on occasion—a clear indication of their general accuracy is that only a few agencies conduct them, and continue to survive on the basis of their credibility.
The India Today Group-ORG 2013 opinion poll predicts a saffron surge across all four major states going for elections, while throwing up some interesting trends. Thirty-eight per cent of the respondents in Delhi said price rise was the Sheila Dikshit government’s biggest failure while the next best choice for chief minister is the outlier challenger Arvind Kejriwal, although his
AAP gets only single-digits seats. In Madhya Pradesh, 46 per cent said the government’s welfare schemes were working but still saw Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as a Hindutva leader. In Chhattisgarh, Chief Minister Raman Singh was twice as popular as his rival Ajit Jogi of the Congress but his party’s tally fell, although it still maintained a slim majority. In Rajasthan, 41 per cent said rising crime against women was their biggest grievance but the difference in the preference of chief ministers between Ashok Gehlot and Vasundhara Raje was marginal.
It is truly beyond me why the EC should consider banning opinion polls in spite of all the restrictions already placed on them. Commentators of varying talent and prejudice can make whatever predictions they want right through the elections and the media can headline them. But a method which has a better chance of being accurate because it is not anecdotal is up for elimination. Are they being banned because people believe them and may be influenced by them, or because they are motivated and designed to mislead? Paranoid politicians are throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is not only an assault on our democracy, which prides itself on a free media, but an insult to the wisdom of the Indian voter who has often surprised both pollsters and politicians.
OUR JANUARY 1980 COVER