Numbers Without Games
Love them or hate them, but you can’t ignore opinion polls. Though polls make for compelling viewing, a sting operation has raised questions about the validity of opinion polls and whether they are manipulated by politicians. The India Today Conclave brought together six people who are intimately connected with psephology and the poll process— Aam Aadmi party leader Yogendra Yadav, opinion poll pioneer Ashok Lahiri, psephologist and BJP member GVL Narasimha Rao, Today’s Chanakya CEO V.K. Bajaj, data analyst Amitabh Dubey and former chief election commissioner S.Y. Quraishi. They had serious questions to contemplate: How do we make the polling system more transparent? Should opinion polls be banned altogether? Why have pollsters often got it wrong in the recent past? VOTE FOR THE BAN S.Y. QURAISHI “All political parties came to us in 1997 and again in 2004 demanding a ban on opinion polls. In 2013, the Election Commission wrote to them and except one, all sought a ban. That is because they have seen pollsters approaching them to fudge polls. I don’t know how many of you saw that sting operation recently. I was glued to TV. I have often heard that opinion polls don’t make a significant impact. What is significant impact? Even one vote going this or that way due to disinformation is bad enough. Under The Representation of the People Act, it’s a corrupt practice.” GVL NARASIMHA RAO “The Congress, BJP and all other major parties are consumers of research. There is no significant party I know of that does not commission polls. Yet, they all hate opinion polls being published in the media because they think it is a nuisance.” YOGENDRAYADAV “I think we have not taken sufficient note of the sting. It confirms some of our worst fears and teaches people like me that we were mistaken. We were wrong in assuming that opinion polls were fair, though occasionally erroneous. Now I think there is systematic manipulation of such polls. I used to advocate self-regulation but I feel we need an external regulator because the industry has simply failed to regulate itself. There should be a code of conduct. The poll should be available for scrutiny. I should also know who paid for this survey. ALL FOR THE POLLS AMITABH DUBEY I think people should have the right to information, even if it’s, to some extent, flawed information. People like me and others in this field have pointed out some of these flaws. For instance, I think the post poll survey that the CSDS does is a very valuable source of information. The problem is that with all the errors, opinion polls conducted far ahead of the election cycle can present a misleading picture. ASHOK LAHIRI I think it’s a fundamental trait of human beings to ask others what they think about something. So too with opinion polls; voters would like to know what others think. This curiosity being so compelling, the media will always have an interest in opinion polls and political commentary. So, banning it is a bad idea. As Yogendra said, you will only drive it underground and that will serve no purpose. V.K. BAJAJ I can tell you from my experience of 15-odd years in the polling industry that even among undecided voters, factors apart from opinion polls influence the vote. Who is the candidate? Which party does he belong to? What has he done for their area? So, it’s only a certain section of the undecided voters that can be influenced by the opinion polls. The majority is not influenced.
(FROM LEFT) V.K. BAJAJ, GVLNARASIMHARAO, S.Y. QURAISHI, ASHOK LAHIRI, YOGENDRAYADAVAND AMITABH DUBEY