Exit polls are said to be more reliable than opinion polls in gauging the mood of the electorate since pollsters catch respondents immediately after they have cast their ballot.
But for the second successive time in five years, mainstream Indian media organisations have fallen flat on their faces in their “exit poll” projections, throwing a big question mark over the authenticity of their claims, the reliability of the pollster’s methods, and their use as a media device.
Obviously, the size of the country, the size of the electorate, the multiple parties and issues involved, etc, making prediction an immeasurably difficult task, but the consistency with which polls are getting it wrong throw a big question mark over the role the media is performing in our democracy: do they have their ear to the ground, catching the pulse of the people whose eyes and ears they are supposed to be.
Or have they become a megaphone for uninformed news, views and gossip, no different from a roadside tea shop.
In 2004, all the exit polls predicted a return to power for the NDA giving the ruling alliance a lead of 40-90 seats and more; in the end, the BJP-led alliance fell 32 seats below the predictions and was routed by the UPA.
In 2009, all the exit polls predicted a thin lead for the ruling UPA; some predictions sighted a single-digit margin between the two alliances. In the end, the Congress-led UPA ended up almost 100 seats ahead of the NDA.
NDTV–Indian Express: NDA 230-250, Congress + allies 190-205,
Aaj Tak/ Headlines Today: NDA 248, Congress + allies 189
Zee News: NDA 249, Congress + allies 176
Star News: NDA 263-275, Congress + allies 174-186
Actual tally: NDA 187, Congress + allies 219
NDTV: UPA 216, NDA 177, Third Front 15
Star News-AC Neilsen: UPA 199, NDA 196
CNN-IBN-CSDS: UPA 185-205, NDA 145-160
India TV-C Voter: UPA 189-201, NDA 183-195
Headlines Today: UPA 191, NDA 180
The Times of India: UPA 198, NDA 183
Actual tally: UPA 256, NDA 164