EC Should Scrap the Ban on Exit Polls
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.