Assembly elections: Gap between exit polls and results

Photo for representation.

Quite often, appearance and reality go hand in hand in politics. We see politicians making promises during election campaigns that aren't fulfilled. They create different narratives for the audience that meander aimlessly, ignoring the current realities in society. So it is of little wonder that at times, the exit poll numbers would also provide a deceptive appearance. 

Counting day had its share of surprises and there's lingering curiosity about the difference between the exit polls and the actual numbers at the end of the day. 

The Maha number game

Most exit polls predicted a huge mandate for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra. While the Times Now exit poll predicted 230 seats for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, 48 seats for the NCP-Congress alliance and 10 for Others, the NDTV poll of polls gave 211 seats for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, 64 for the Congress-NCP alliance and 13 for Others. The News18 IPSOS gave the BJP an even larger total of 243 seats, 41 to the Congress-NCP and 4 to Others.

So much number crunching and yet, the numbers fell flat. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance actually ended up winning 161 seats (BJP -105, Shiv Sena -56), the Congress-NCP won 98 seats (Congress -44, NCP -54), the MNS won 1 seat and the other parties won 28 seats combined.

As a saving grace for exit polls, India Today's Axis My India got somewhat close to the results. It predicted that the BJP and Shiv Sena would win 181 seats, the Congress and NCP 81 seats and 26 seats for the Others. 

Far from reality in Haryana

When it came to Haryana's exit polls, the numbers confidently declared a victor and a loser. The numbers even led to celebrations by the BJP, while the Congress resorted to either denial or despair. Let's look at the exit poll numbers: 

News18-IPSOS: BJP - 75; Congress - 10; Others - 5

Times Now: BJP - 71; Congress - 11; Others - 8

NDTV Poll of Polls: BJP - 66; Congress - 14; Others - 10

India News: BJP - 75 to 80; Congress - 9 to12; Others - 1 to 4

Republic-Jan Ki Baat: BJP - 52 to 63; Congress - 15 to 19; Others - 12 to 19

According to almost all the exit polls above, the BJP was en route to a huge victory with victory in seats ranging from 60 to 70. The Congress was way behind, barely gaining 15 seats. 

When the actual numbers came in, however, they told a different story. The Congress surprised pundits and gave the BJP a run for its money. They were neck and neck throughout counting day, with the numbers and positions fluctuating every minute. The Congress managed to clinch 31 seats, 9 short of the BJP's tally. It was a far cry from almost all the exit poll predictions. Only India Today's Axis My India was on target with a surprise prediction that Haryana would witness a hung Assembly. 

Exit polls are based on probabilities and predictions. They are based on field research and they can often go wrong with their projections. A lot rests on an individual's perception, analysis and willingness to place faith in exit poll numbers. Perception is not reality and early jubilation or dejection based on projections is a wasted effort. Let's take exit polls for what they are - a shot in the dark drawn from random sampling - and let's not get carried away by them. 

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