Don’t Believe the Exit Polls

By Ashwin Tombat
19 May 2019 22:02 IST

Today is the final lap of Election 2019. As things stand, the 2019 election is likely to record a voter turnout of around 67 per cent, which will break the previous record of 66.4 per cent in the 2014 polls. This, after 5.5 crore new voters have been added to the voters lists since the 2014 general elections.

Overall, Goa has not contributed to the increase in turnout. However, polling percentages saw record highs in the three assembly constituencies that had simultaneous by-polls. Hopefully, that trend will continue when the state capital Panaji votes today.

Will the BJP win over 300 seats in Parliament, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed at his first press conference in the last five years (where he declined to take any questions)? Or will he get thrown out of office, as Congress President Rahul Gandhi prophesies? The real answer, as we all suspect, is somewhere in between.

As the final round of polling concludes this evening, television channels will start telecasting exit poll results.

Don’t believe the exit polls.

None of the methods used for these predictions is infallible. Converting vote share into seat share is intensely complicated in a first-past-the-post system. For example, with exactly the same levels of vote share as in 2014, the 2019 seat share in Uttar Pradesh could be drastically different because of the alliance of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

In 2004, Atal Bihari Vajpayee won the exit poll but was defeated in the actual election. Exit polls said that the BJP-led NDA would win between 230 and 275 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats (272 constitute a majority). But the NDA actually won just 185 seats. The Congress-led UPA won 218 seats and formed the government with the support of the BSP, the SP and Left parties, among others.

The 2015 Delhi Assembly election was held nearly a year after the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Most exit polls predicted that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would just cross the halfway mark in the 70-member assembly. But the party won a record 67 of the 70 seats!

The election to the Bihar Assembly was held the same year, the contest being between the BJP and a 'Mahagathbandhan’ of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal – United (JD-U), Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress. Most exit polls forecast that the NDA would win between 100 and 127 seats in the 243-member house, and the Mahagathbandhan's tally would be slightly less than that. In actual fact, the NDA got just 58 seats and the Mahagathbandhan secured a comfortable majority with 178 seats. Two exit polls predict this correctly. Four got it wrong.

Six states — Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat — saw a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP in 2014, and the BJP won 97 of 100 seats. This result cannot be repeated. In assembly elections held after 2014, the BJP took Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh away from the Congress, while the Congress defeated the BJP in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, the BJP won all 26 Lok Sabha seats in 2014. But the Congress managed to mount a massive challenge in the 2017 assembly election, winning 77 seats to the BJP’s 99.  

The SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh is bound to make a significant dent in the BJP’s 2014 tally of 72 out of 80 seats. Some analysts are predicting that the BJP’s vote share will fall in Eastern UP, and the Mahagathbandhan could win upward of 50 seats, with the BJP’s tally coming down to around 25 or less.

There is no way the BJP’s self-projected gains in West Bengal, Odisha and the North East can make up for these massive losses. The Congress-Mukt Bharatslogan is dead and buried.  

But, all said and done, the BJP will probably still end up as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha. Even a 2004-type verdict cannot take the Congress ahead of the BJP. The party is almost non-existent in Andhra Pradesh, the state that boosted its tally in 2004 and 2009.

Unless the Congress manages to pull off a Karnataka-type coalition, where it took a back seat and gave the chief ministership to a smaller party, 23 May will likely see the BJP emerge as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha, considerably short of a majority, and having to cobble together a broad coalition to stay in power.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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