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Explained | Exit polls and rules around it in India

As the name suggests—Exit Polls are to be conducted only after the very last phase of voting is completed, as per the Election Commission of India.
Last Updated : 12 April 2024, 17:33 IST
Last Updated : 12 April 2024, 17:33 IST

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With voting for the 18th Lok Sabha elections scheduled to commence from April 19, conversations about factors that would work for a particular political party and their past records are common. Most Indians will walk into the polling booths across the country from 19th of this month and cast their valuable vote, however, discussions about exit polls have also started before the polling begins.

The very first Exit Poll was conducted in India by the Indian Institute of Public Opinion, in 1957— during the second Lok Sabha elections.

As the name suggests—Exit Polls are to be conducted only after the very last phase of voting is completed, as per the Election Commission of India.

It must be noted here that exit polls are different from Opinion Polls which are conducted just before the elections. In simple words, the Election Commission defines Exit Poll to be a survey that is conducted based on a set of questions that are asked to voters exiting the polling stations after casting their vote.

The most common way of conducting such a survey is collection of samples. These samples are nothing but what citizens feel about a particular party and its works in the past and current period. Questions asked to voters during exit poll also include aspects that delve into why a voter chose to press the button for XYZ party, if he/she wishes to share the details.

“Without a structured questionnaire, the data can neither be collected coherently nor be analysed systematically to arrive at vote share estimates,” Indian Express quoted Sanjay Kumar, Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies as saying.

The samples gathered by agencies conducting exit polls can include varying number of responses depending on the region/state.

Rules around Exit Polls in India

1. As mentioned above, exit polls are not supposed to be conducted before the completion of the final phase of voting. This rule has been imposed under the Section 126A of the Representation of the People's Act, 1951 which reads: "No person shall conduct any exit poll and publish or publicise by means of the print or electronic media or disseminate in any other manner, whatsoever, the result of an exit poll during such period as may be notified by the Election Commission in this regard."

2. However, owing to the extensive curiosity around which party could be the possible winner, television channels and social media platforms these days telecast the so-called predications even before the voting is completed. The Section 126A also observes: "Any person who contravenes the provisions of this section shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine or with both."

3. The Election Commission has also announced during the previous elections that television or radio channels must not broadcast anything related to elections "until such results are formally announced by the Election Commission of India, unless such results are carried with clear disclaimer that they are unofficial or incomplete or partial results or projections which should not be taken as final results," per a report in the Economic Times.

4. Another contention is that exit polls need not predict right always. For instance, all predictions on the basis of exit polls during the 2023 Karnataka assembly elections failed, except the Axis My India-India Today poll, which predicted 95 per cent of its exit polls correctly. Despite similar such results, there are many agencies that enter the exit poll fray.

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Published 12 April 2024, 17:33 IST

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