Num­bers With­out Games

India Today - - WINNING - RO­HIT CHAWLA by Jayant Sri­ram

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

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