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The election results are also about how polls are predicted and analysed

Exit polls have been known to get things wrong in the past. In a first past the post system such as the one India uses, it is difficult to translate vote share (which is what opinion polls measure) into seat share. Indeed, the better the conversion algorithm in use, the higher the chances of the polling agency getting it right

editorials Updated: Dec 17, 2017 17:57 IST
Hindustan Times
Gujarat elections,Himachal pradesh Elections,Exit polls
Polling staff check EVMs before moving to their polling booths. The battle in Gujarat is effectively between the BJP and the Congress, and many analysts expect it to be a close election. (Sameer Sehgal /HT Photo)

The results of the Gujarat assembly election will be out on Monday. Exit polls give the election to the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has governed the state for 22 years. According to various polls, the BJP is expected to win between 99 and 146 seats in the 182-member assembly; and the Indian National Congress between 36 and 82. Such polls have been known to get things wrong in the past. In a first past the post system such as the one India uses, it is difficult to translate vote share (which is what opinion polls measure) into seat share. Indeed, the better the conversion algorithm in use, the higher the chances of the polling agency getting it right.

That hasn’t happened. While some agencies did get the general (very general) direction of the verdict right in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections earlier this year, not one was able to predict the magnitude of the BJP’s landslide win. That was in a state where the vote share was split largely between three groupings. In Gujarat, the battle is effectively between the BJP and the Congress, and many analysts expect it to be a close election (although the conviction of some has waned a bit after the exit polls came out). On paper, it should be: the BJP has ruled the state for 22 years and now, without Narendra Modi as chief minister, it has to deal with the so-called anti-incumbency factor; the Congress has finally put together a pragmatic coalition of Patidars, other backward classes, and Dalits; and, finally, last year’s demonetisation and this year’s Goods and Services Tax have hit small traders and businessmen in Gujarat, making them angry at the BJP, for which they traditionally vote. Some experts believe these factors are offset by the BJP’s record in the state, and Modi himself, a son of the soil, who became Prime Minister of the country in 2014 after leading the BJP to the biggest win any party has seen in parliamentary elections in three decades.

In some ways, today’s verdict isn’t just about the Congress and the BJP but about how elections are predicted and analysed (ahead of the verdict). If it’s close, then it’s an indication that existing paradigms and rules of coverage, analysis, and forecasting still hold to some extent. If it’s not, then it’s one more point of evidence that these are outdated and need to change. Nothing else can explain close campaigns, and clear winners.

First Published: Dec 17, 2017 16:29 IST