Why exit polls find it difficult to crack Karnataka

Professor Narendar Pani of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, in Mail Today:

“Pollsters can do well in states, like Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, where parties depend largely on committed voters. Pollsters can then distribute their sample to cover constituencies that represent the different sides in an election. Any shift captured in these constituencies can give us a pretty good idea of the overall picture.

“Karnataka, on the other hand, is extremely volatile. Voting percentages of a party in a constituency are known to shift by as much as 15 to 20 percent. There was a time when this volatility was influenced by national leaders…. Once the Congress lost its invincibility in 1983, Karnataka’s voters tended to place a great deal of importance on how they felt about a local politician at a point of time.

“These close ties between voters and individual leaders have in recent years meant voters tend to often put their local leader above the party. When leaders shift dramatically from one party to another, they are able to take a far greater number of their voters with them than they would in a state dominated by cadre based parties. These shifts were difficult enough to monitor when there were two main parties, but have become even more complicated now that Karnataka has three parties vying for power and a fourth, the BSP, attracting its share of politicians…..

“And there is no distinct pattern in the direction in which the politicians are moving. Faced with this volatility attempting to choose a constituency as representing a particular party, on the basis of its previous voting pattern, is clearly futile.”

Photograph: Armed with their identity cards and voting slips, a band of women use empty fertiliser bags to make sure their Ilkal sarees don’t get soiled on their way to a polling booth in Dharwad on Thursday. (Karnataka Photo News)