Tamasha of Exit Polls: Fight Between Axis and Chanakya Continues

With lack of clarity on methodology, can one rely on exit polls predicting BJP’s victory for fifth time?

5 min read
With lack of clarity on methodology, can one rely on exit polls predicting BJP’s victory for fifth time?
Tamasha of Exit Polls: Fight Between Axis and Chanakya Continues

Exit polls for both Gujarat and Himachal Assembly elections are out, and the trend is clear – BJP is all set to win both these elections. Not a single poll predicts a Congress victory in either state. This is in line with the pre-poll surveys, which, despite predicting a close contest, claimed BJP would win for the fifth consecutive time in Gujarat. You don’t need to be a political analyst to predict Himachal which witnesses a change of guard every five years.

TV channels were full of noise, energy and drama yesterday with everyone trying to come up with different theories. Anchors, commentators and politicians tried their best to make sense of the numbers.

While BJP spokespersons boasted of victory and didn’t forget to credit NaMo for the same, Congress leaders rejected the exit poll results, as they talked about how such forecasts have failed earlier in Bihar and Delhi.

Do the Exit Polls Get it Right?

Exit polls are generally more accurate than opinion polls though they are not spot on in terms of seat tally many times, yet they do give a sense about the prevalent trend. However, it doesn’t mean that exit polls can’t go wrong. Exit polls of 2017 showed a split verdict for different states and many of them got it wrong:

  1. MRC, C-Voter, CSDS predicted a hung assembly in UP; BJP won
  2. C-Voter predicted an AAP victory in Punjab; INC won
  3. C-Voter predicted a tie in Uttarakhand; BJP won
  4. Chanakya and MRC predicted that AAP will be the single largest party along with Congress in Punjab; Congress won
  5. Axis predicted victory for the Congress in Manipur and BJP victory in Goa (hung assembly in both states)
  6. C-Voter, CSDS and MRC predicted that BJP will be the single largest party in Goa (Congress was the single largest party)

Chances of Congress’ Victory are Slim

One argument in defence of exit polls is that when the race is close, they could go wrong. This is true and was evident in Goa, Manipur and Punjab. However, exit poll agencies were also wrong in case of a sweeping victory in Uttar Pradesh.

Having said that, even if all the predictions are wrong, the probability of Congress winning in these elections is quite low.

Several agencies have propped up in the last few years and one doesn’t really know about their ownership, research capabilities and background. Many new agencies do it for free for various channels to get a foothold, which impacts the quality. Some do an online post-poll survey.

Projections about Seats and Vote Share

According to the average of poll of polls, BJP is likely to get 112 seats and Congress 68 seats in Gujarat. In terms of vote share, BJP is expected to record 48 percent and Congress 41 percent respectively.

These results, if true, would mean a marginal improvement for the Congress party though it also suggests continuing with the status quo, as BJP had won 115 and Congress 61 seats respectively in 2012. The devil lies in the details which seems to have been missed by many experts.

The range for BJP’s seat tally is between 99 (lower end of Axis-India Today) to 146 (higher end of Today’s Chanakya). Similarly, the range for Congress’s seat tally is between 36 (lower end of Today’s Chanakya) to 82 (higher end of Axis-India Today). The range of vote share for the BJP is between 46-52 percent and for Congress it’s somewhere between 35-43 percent, which is a considerably vast range.

Probable Political Scenarios

Three political scenarios are likely to emerge. Though all of them predict a victory for the BJP, they all tell a very different story. What we are seeing is that the two of the most popular agencies with good track record have very divergent views on the results.

Axis shot to fame getting Delhi, Bihar and UP correct. It usually sticks to the seat-by-seat prediction. Chanakya got the 2014 Lok Sabha, Delhi and UP Assembly elections correct. However, it had goofed up in Bihar.

First Scenario: If BJP Wins Less than 100 Seats

If the lower limit, as is being predicted by Axis, turns out to be true, it will prove that Congress has indeed managed to make a severe dent in BJP’s citadel of Gujarat. It will pose serious questions on the Gujarat model of development and ring alarm bells for the BJP ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Modi can’t take the 2019 elections for granted. The results will also prove that he is not invincible. BJP had won all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. Any losses in Gujarat could mean the party will struggle to retain its 2014 tally of 282 seats.

Second Scenario: If BJP Wins Above 100 Seats

This broadly means that the status quo continues in Gujarat. This result will give both the parties something to cheer for. That would mean that BJP has managed to hold on to its vote bank and despite 22 years of rule and the resultant anti-incumbency, the party has managed to sail through despite all the odds stacked against it during these elections.

People still don’t see Congress as a viable option. Congress should get solace in the fact that the party managed to give BJP a run for their money. Most pundits had written off the party’s prospects in Gujarat three-four months ago. It also faced severe desertions having lost 28 percent of its MLAs who were poached by the BJP.

Third Scenario: If Congress Wins Less than 50 Seats

If the higher limit of Chanakya’s forecast or even the median figure, that is 135 to 146 seats for BJP, turns out to be true, then this won’t be good news for Congress. It would actually mean BJP improving its tally since 2012 and that Modi’s charisma still works.

That would spell doom for the Congress for not being able to make a dent despite stitching together a broader coalition. The party’s slow decision-making and delay in forging alliance with the young troika – Alpesh, Jignesh and Hardik – and inability to project a leader who can take on a Rupani, as written earlier for The Quint, despite getting rid of Shankersinh Vaghela, could be some of the factors behind the party’s loss.

If we consider forecasts for Scenario I and III as outliers, then we are headed towards status quo situation in Gujarat as per exit polls.

We all need to wait till 18 December for the actual results, and then analyse the reasons perhaps. As my friend Subhash Chandra tweeted, it all depends on whether the law of averages catches up with Axis, or the outlier forecaster Chankaya gets it right again.

Of course, stakes are high for both!

(Amitabh Tiwari is an ex-corporate and investment banker-turned-political consultant and commentator. He can be reached @politicalbaaba. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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