EC Should Scrap the Ban on Exit Polls

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

We de­plore the ar­rest the ed­i­tor of the on­line edi­tion of Hindi daily Dainik Ja­gran for pub­lish­ing an exit poll for the first phase of Ut­tar Pradesh elec­tions. Yes, on Jan­uary 29, the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (EC) had banned the con­duct and pub­li­ca­tion of exit polls be­tween Fe­bru­ary 4 and March 8, when five states vote, but it is con­demnable to ar­rest a jour­nal­ist for do­ing his job of dis­sem­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion re­ceived from an­other agency, a poll­ster called RDI. The ar­rest will tend to strengthen state in­tol­er­ance of me­dia and could cre­ate a cli­mate of sup­pres­sion of facts that cit­i­zens need to know in or­der to take in­formed de­ci­sions and form opin­ions. The root of this trou­ble is the EC’s pro­hi­bi­tion of exit polls. The EC be­lieves the re­sults of such polls in­flu­ence vot­ing be­hav­iour dur­ing an elec­tion that plays out in mul­ti­ple phases: in the case of UP, In­dia’s largest state, in seven phases spread over Fe­bru­ary 11 to March 8. Whether exit polls would out­weigh the com­plex cal­cu­la­tions vot­ers have is de­bat­able. But even if it is con­ceded that exit polls in­flu­ence vot­ing be­hav­iour, why is that a bad thing? Lead­ers’ speeches and ral­lies in­flu­ence vot­ing be­hav­iour. So does ad­ver­tis­ing. Should these be banned? The gov­ern­ment should aban­don the pa­ter­nal­is­tic no­tion that peo­ple need to be pro­tected from in­for­ma­tion, to keep out evil in­flu­ences. Trust their judge­ment. The EC should re­move the ban. Such polls will cre­ate one ad­di­tional source of in­for­ma­tion, re­move a gag on me­dia and cre­ate a mar­ket for opin­ion. This is im­por­tant: if mul­ti­ple agen­cies com­pete among them­selves to con­duct exit polls, it is likely that they will con­tra­dict each other, thereby can­celling out what­ever im­pact a sin­gle poll might have had. Democ­racy gives us choices: let the EC not curb one of them.

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