Typos happen, occasionally with interesting ramifications. Five years ago, the stock markets in the United States crashed because a trader entered a ‘b’ for billion in his computer instead of an ‘m’ for million while selling shares of a large MNC.
Still, Today’s Chanakya’s explanation for its Bihar exit poll fiasco sounds too convenient.
“A simple computer template coding marking the alliances got interchanged at our end. Due to this our seat numbers remained the same but respective alliances got interchanged,” said an email sent out by the pollster on Monday.
It sounds too convenient because it came right after the results came out, and showed that Chanakya had got the numbers right, only assigned them wrongly. It had predicted a clear and dominant majority for the National Democratic Alliance, but rival Mahagathbandhan ended up getting it.
A spokesperson for Today’s Chanakya however insisted that it was indeed a classic case of human error. In an election with alliances as the chief contestants, the exit pollsters’ work becomes a little complicated. A voter will have voted for a party, and he will be entered into the system as having voted that party. However, in the next step, his vote will get linked to the alliance to which that party belongs.
The first step was correct, but the linking to the alliance, said the spokesperson, got interchanged. “The day this template was made, my senior person was on leave, his assistant did the job. When the senior person came back, he forgot to check the linking to the alliance.”
Was that all? What about the buzz that Today’s Chanakya has worked closely with some political parties and that may have something to do with the fiasco?
“Any political research survey company works with political and media organisations, as also with the business community. This is valid for each and every polling company in India,” said its spokesperson. He wouldn’t reveal the names of his clients because of a confidentiality clause. “Forget this election, in the past 15 to 18 years, we have given correct projections. If my template was fine, the seat numbers will remain the same.”
To Yogendra Yadav, purveyor of many an election, the system needs to be corrected beyond just avoiding human error. “What is needed is to give up the black magic approach. No one anywhere can give the exact number of seats,” said Yadav.
He called for greater transparency about the methodology, sample size, number of constituencies, locations, method of interviewing, who paid for the survey, and so on. “The disclosure norms should be strict, and there should be a monitoring agency.”
And if you claim to be the only agency to predict correctly the last two Lok Sabha elections and several state elections, as Chanakya’s twitter handle claims, you have got to offer a little more explanation when you get a critical poll like Bihar horribly wrong. It may have been better to stick to the first one, sent out on Twitter on Sunday: “We sincerely apologise all our friends & well wishers for not able to predict Bihar (sic).”