Opinion polls are the surveys or the inquiries designed to measure the public's electoral mandate generally during elections. Recently, opinion polls and exit polls were in the news with the assembly elections in five states of the country.
Election Commission asked for the views of the national parties on the issue of opinion polls. Parties submitted their views for or against the opinion polls and taking cognisance of the matter EC banned publishing of the opinion polls till 3rd December i.e. the last voting day.
Controversy surrounding opinion polls is not new. Time to time, some or the other political party (depending on its fortunes projected in the polls) has sought ban on the opinion polls. In 2004, it was BJP and now it is Congress that has sought ban on the opinion polls.
Many political analysts see opinion polls as an evil in democracy. Their main argument is opinion polls have bandwagon effect on the fair election process. This argument looks pretty good in theory but doesn't have any proofs to backup its claims. One can clearly see from the definition of the term 'opinion poll' that polls project what voters are thinking and what their mandate will be. It doesn't direct the voters to go for the majority view or to neglect the minority.
The second most argued point is that opinion polls lead to the 'tactical voting' i.e. planned voting. However, tactical voting is not a negative voting. According to Rajni Kothari, a well known political scientist, India has witnessed the dominance of one party system due to lack of credible opposition and this imbalance can be rectified through tactical voting.
Further opinion polls are accused of being manipulated and sometimes being wrong. One agrees that it can be manipulated by arranging favourable questions and samples of the survey but voters are the ultimate and the most important part of such poll.
So what voters think will be reflected in some or the other way. The false and manipulated polls will soon lose their credibility.
Opinion poll is the product of scientific research. And being a scientific process, whenever polls are wrong that's because of the data or its misinterpretation. Such errors can be easily rectified once they are detected.
It is also argued that in India elections are held in phases and on different dates. So prediction of the early stages of the election will affect the voting at the later stages. Also predicting the public mandate can affect the moral of the cadres of the political parties.
But one should remember that it is not the duty of the media to keep the moral of the party cadres high. Media is accountable to the people not to the political parties. If that is the case, then speeches of political leaders affect the moral of the opposition's cadre, will they be banned too?
Indian constitution has guaranteed every Indian citizen the freedom of speech and expression through article 19.A. Ban on the opinion polls will certainly curtail this right. So no argument against opinion polls holds any moral ground. In a country like ours, opinion polls and exit polls are much needed to enrich our healthy democracy.
Nikhi Ramchandra Jathe