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Banning opinion polls will serve little purpose

india Updated: Nov 05, 2013 01:54 IST

The Election Commission’s (EC) suggestion of doing away with pre-poll surveys has found support from unexpected quarters. The Congress has endorsed the EC’s views. Stating that they are not ‘scientific’ and are not conducted in a ‘transparent manner’ the grand old party has written to the EC, which had asked political parties to submit their views on banning such polls. The Congress’ dislike for opinion polls is understandable. After all, in most of the polls that have been released so far, the party is predicted to take a beating in the upcoming state elections. In Delhi, where the Congress has been in power for three consecutive terms, an opinion poll shows the party trailing. The results are not encouraging in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh either.

Psephology is a science that analyses political results. Depending on region, society and various other factors psephologists more often than not are able to reflect the sentiments of the electorate before voting day. Many democracies around the world have robust traditions of having opinion polls. Nathaniel Read ‘Nate’ Silver, the famous American sabermetricist (the analysis of baseball statistics) and psephologist, has been successfully forecasting the career of major baseball players and forecasted correctly 49 of the 50 state winners in the 2008 presidential elections. So popular was Silver’s ‘FiveThirtyEight’ blog that the New York Times licensed its publication in 2010. In 2012, Silver predicted the winner in all the 50 states. Pre-poll surveys help in understanding the public mood. While there may be room for doubting the neutrality and objectivity of an opinion poll, it should be remembered that these surveys are not oracular prophesies. Nor are they edicts carved in stone. Depending on various factors, these surveys can go wrong. At present exit polls are banned and there is a ban on opinion polls 48 hours before the day of election.

The Congress would do well to remember Sophocles in Antigone: “No one loves the messenger who brings bad news”. Rather than taking objection to opinion polls, the Congress should look at it as an early warning system and use the time left for course correction before the general elections in 2014.