Should opinion polls on election be banned?
From being in the news, opinion polls have become the news. The Congress, which is being routed in most opinion polls in recent times, wants the Election Commission to ban them. The party says opinion polls are plagued by poor methodologies, and do more to mislead than inform.
Why are political parties getting so worked up about opinion polls?
There are two reasons. One, they tell voters about the national mood vis-a-vis parties. Two, they can be used to sway undecided voters, especially those who want to vote for the winner to ensure their vote doesn't go waste. For this reason, opinion polls are becoming a political weapon. Each party ...view middle of the document...
So, should opinion polls be banned?
Just because there are made-to-order opinion polls, it doesn't mean opinion polls themselves are a bad thing. They present one way in which voters can gauge the national mood. The question is: how does one ensure the polls do not get manipulated?
How does one do that?
Greater transparency. If a poll is claiming to sum up the national mood, it should also describe its methodology --the size of the sample, its socio-economic profile, how the data was collected (questionnaire, interview or phone), etc. The poll should also disclose ownership and track record of the organisation that conducted the survey, and the client who paid for the survey. A good start would be to ignore any survey that doesn't provide detailed answers to all of these questions.
Don't ban opinion polls, but bring in a code of conduct for pollsters
In the land of astrologers and soothsayers, it is faintly amusing to see our politicians in a lather over opinion polls. The very netas who plan their lives according to the stars are now choosing to call the polls "unscientific"! Barely five months ago, when the polls were predicting a Congress win in Karnataka, the party which now wants polls banned was praising their accuracy. In 2004, the BJP, which now is pushing for the publication of polls, had joined the chorus in demanding that polls be banned once elections were notified. As times change, so, well, does "opinion". Sadly, as always in the noise of surround sound, the facts are in danger of losing out to a mix of ignorance and partisanship.
Examine the primary arguments against polls. It is being argued that opinion polls must be banned because they are inaccurate and unscientific. Yes, opinion polls have gone spectacularly wrong on occasion in predicting election results. But there have also been several times when they have been remarkably accurate. The point is, psephology is not mathematics: to expect exact numbers is to misread the science of analysing voter behaviour. A good poll is at best a trend-spotter, the actual projections are difficult to measure in a highly localised and competitive election environment.
There's also the counter-argument: if opinion polls are inaccurate, what indeed is more "accurate"? Are journalists who confidently predict which way the wind is blowing the ultimate barometers of the political mood? Are politicians who will proclaim their party is winning a landslide to be trusted? Or is the satta market the real guide to political fortunes? Does hard data assembled through a rigorous polling exercise not matter, or do we simply predict elections on the basis of intuition?
Those who argue that a sample size of a few thousand cannot measure a country as large and diverse as India again have little understanding of either statistics or sampling. The true test of a well done poll is not its size, but how representative it is, and the quality of the questionnaire. The real information gleaned from a...