They are perhaps, apart from politicians, the most sought-after people during a general or assembly elections in the country. It is not too difficult to spot them then, busy as they are TV studio-hopping or writing one analytical report after another for newspapers— analysing results or predicting winners.
Poll analysts “examine opinion/exit poll data and take into account additional inputs to predict the likely outcome of an election”, says Rajeeva L Karandikar, executive VP, Cranes Software International Ltd, a Bangalore-based product and consultancy firm and a poll analyst/psephologist in his own right.
They also provide insights into voting trends and look into issues the voters are concerned with, Karandikar points out.
“India being the largest democracy and a huge consumer market, there is enormous scope for poll analysts,” says Dhananjai Joshi, director, Global Research & Analytics Corporation (GRAC), a research and analytics firm. “Snap polls — focusing on not just the parliamentary elections but also on other issues — are becoming popular in the Indian media,” adds Joshi. But politics comes up trumps. “People are greatly interested in the elections, and even state elections provide ample work opportunities for analysts,” says Sanjay Kumar, fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), the organisation behind the poll predictions broadcast on CNN-IBN during the 2009 general elections.
“There are a good number of poll analysts in our country,” says Kumar. Joshi agrees, but points out, “The term ‘good’ can be applied to a few.”
“Most political analysts have a very crude understanding of the dynamics of contemporary global economy,” says Joshi.
“Moreover, the statistical tools employed are either rudimentary or not best suited to the subject of research.” He attributes this lack of quality manpower to the absence of an industry union. “In the West, they have organisations such as the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR) and The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), which ensure ethical business standards and provide a forum for R&D in methodology. There is no such association here.”
With the proliferation of news channels, the demand for good poll analysts is increasing. There is no denying, however, that poll analysis can only be a part-time engagement as the elections generally happen once in every five years. “Analysts make good money during that time, but later they have to look for other sources of income,” says Kumar.
There are other avenues, too. “Once you know the analytical tools, you will find work in market research, consumer and branding research, and evaluative research,” points out Joshi.
And do not think analysts have it easy. The audiences (TV viewers and newspaper readers) often have “unrealistic expectations”, says Karandikar. Also, “factoring in the diverse Indian society and polity into your analysis/prediction in the right measure is the biggest challenge,” says Parimal Kumar Singh, associate director, Development & Research Services, a market and media research organisation. The prospects, however, are bright “as demand from political parties and the media is growing fast,” he points out.
What’s it about?
Poll analysis is not just forecasting results based on exit polls on election day. It is also about analysing trends and patterns of voting and the main issues the voters are concerned with. The voter turnout, based on community, age or gender, urban and rural participation, etc, is also something analysts are interested in. In fact, one can have hundreds of questions related to elections, and being a poll analyst is all about trying to answer these questions.
It is basically behavioural research that includes the survey-based analysis of elections, public opinion and even consumer behaviour. It is strictly based on numbers. Though most pollsters in India are known for their election analysis, a large part of their business comes from public opinion and consumer research
Entry level Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000, middle level around Rs 50,000, and senior level around Rs 70,000. The pay can be excellent for someone who has made a name for himself or herself in the business
A bulk of the analysts’ work happens during the elections. This is a sample work schedule of an independent consultant/ researcher/analyst.
8.30 am: At the desk. Check e-mail
10.30 am: Follow the stock market opening of the day
11.30 am: Deskwork (making proposals/ reports/analysis/etc)
2.30 pm: Lunch
3 pm: Follow the stock market trade and closing of the day
4 pm: Go for client meetings
7.30 pm: Go to club with client
10.30 pm: Get back home and spent some time with family
11.30 pm: Watch the day’s news before going to sleep
During parliamentary or assembly elections, analysts spend most of their time either in a TV studio or writing for the print media. They also travel extensively during election time to feel the pulse of the voters across the country
. A flair for numbers
. Ability to comprehend people’s behaviour — as India has many diversities and
people behave and vote in different ways
. Good analytical skills
. A perceptive mind for gauging popular mood
. Ability to express himself/herself clearly
How do i get there?
The best way is to learn by experience and complement it with formal education. One can get a good Master’s degree in statistics and follow it up with a PhD based on statistical analysis of various research methodologies. The subject of the research really depends on what one wants to specialise in.
An economist, a sociologist and a political scientist can be equally good pollsters, provided they have a good grasp of the statistical packages needed to analyse data. Someone with a postgraduate degree in political science, economics and/or sociology can also become a poll analyst
Institutes & urls
There is no course designed for teaching poll analysis in India.
However, for a Master's degree in political science, economics or sociology one can enrol at any good university/college, like Delhi School of Economics or JNU, in the country. Some programmes offered abroad are at:
University of Essex, UK,
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, US,
University of Nebraska, Lincoln, US;
Pros & Cons
. Immensely satisfying and exciting work, especially if your predictions come good
. One can enjoy a lot of media exposure
. Work not regular because elections do not happen every day
Learn from experience
How can one be a successful poll analyst? A senior analyst advises
What could be an ideal educational background for a poll analyst?
There is no formal qualification. One can be from any stream, though a formal education in political science might help. In India, we have excellent poll analysts with formal training in subjects other than political science.
What is the difference between a psephologist and a poll analyst?
I am not sure if there is any difference — both are the same. The one fine line could be that while a poll analyst may avoid making a seat forecast (done by converting vote estimates to seats — in the Parliament or state assemblies — gained by a party) but can analyse the election, it is almost mandatory for the psephologist to make seat forecast.
How scientific is poll analysis?
Over the years, there has been an improvement in the quality of election analysis, but forecasting (number of seats for a party) has not improved. The method of converting vote estimates into seats is relatively easy in states with bi-polar contests, but difficult where there are multi-party contests.
Can poll analysis/psephology be taught?
There is no institution for formal training in poll analysis/psephology. No such course is available in India in any college, university or even a private institution. Poll analysis can (only) be learned by experience.
Sanjay Kumar, fellow, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies Interviewed by Pranab Ghosh