Punjab polls: Pollsters in a bind, face credibility crisis -By Manish Tiwari

Predictions by many television channels and media houses in the past 15 years have been way off the mark. Today, most of the surveys have lost credibility and in the process brought disrepute to the media.

By Manish Tiwari/Chandigarh: The elections are barely 25 days away, and national television channels, intelligence agencies and poll pundits have started making all sorts of predictions. While some are showing the Akalis doing better than the Congress and AAP, others are predicting a Congress win.

A few days ago, two national television channels ÔÇô ABP News and India Today ÔÇô confounded the confusion of the voter by announcing totally contradictory pre-poll survey results. According to ABP News, the SAD-BJP Combine is likely to get around 50-58 seats, which is more than the Congress and AAP, while India Today has predicted that Sukhbir BadalÔÇÖs dream of ruling Punjab for the next 25 years could well be in jeopardy as his party is likely to secure third position, much below the Congress and AAP.

In 2002, India Today had predicted around 93 seats for the Congress in Punjab, even as the party barely managed to secure 62 seats.

This has, in fact, become the norm. Predictions by many television channels and media houses in the past 15 years have been way off the mark. Today, most of the surveys have lost credibility and in the process brought disrepute to the media. Though many times misleading the public, the pollsters come back again with their pre-poll survey results just before the elections.

During a Hindustan Times function on January 7, when the newspaperÔÇÖs Senior Resident Editor Ramesh Vinayak, asked PunjabÔÇÖs Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal for his views on opinion polls, he quipped: ÔÇ£I donÔÇÖt believe in these surveys since a majority are manufactured, and at times, hugely manipulated. In the past, I have been approached by some opinion poll managers who wanted money for fabricating pre-poll survey results.ÔÇØ But heÔÇÖs not the only politician who thinks that pre-poll surveys can be stage-managed. Many other politicians, as well as the public hold similar views across Punjab.

One would do well to remember the important lesson driven home in the recent US Presidential election. The unanimous views of ÔÇÿexpertsÔÇÖ and almost 97 per cent television channels was that Hillary Clinton would trounce Donald Trump. On January 20, 2017, however, it is Trump who will move into the White House, while Hillary gets to watch him take the Oath of Office from a spectatorÔÇÖs seat at his swearing in ceremony. They all proved wrong.

Interestingly, in Europe, in the country of the Czech Republic, it is a cultural tradition to lie to exit pollsters. Czechs vote for someone, tell a pollster they chose someone else, then gather in pubs watching ÔÇÿexpertsÔÇÖ make fools out of themselves ÔÇÿcallingÔÇÖ the election in advance. It reminds me of the old maxim: Garbage in, garbage out. If you feed bad data into a computer, you obviously get bad results.

Coming back to the upcoming Punjab polls, while covering the elections here for almost two decades I have realised that even the state Intelligence Bureau has gone wrong on most of its assessments. This hold true even today. Neither the politicians nor the officers working in the Intelligence Wing take the DepartmentÔÇÖs surveys or exit polls seriously. ÔÇ£WeÔÇÖve gone wrong many times in the past. So, we have lost faith in our own mechanism to assess poll outcome,ÔÇØ confides a senior IPS officer presently posted in the Intelligence Wing.

Even the poll pundits (read political analysts), some of whom have proved wrong on their ÔÇÿfactsÔÇÖ and predictions in the past two decades, now sit confused. Gone is their confidence this time and they prefer to talk in ifs and buts. More than analysing the data, they like to analyse your mood ÔÇö and serve you comments and assessments after finding which side of the fence you are sitting on. Incidentally, these figures and assessments keep changing with times.

In the 2017 elections, a new game is being played out in Punjab. Two old parties with jaded appeal are in the fray and with them is a shining bright third newcomer. The voter is emotional and no one will be able to predict today how he will behave and whom he will develop a liking for in the coming few weeks, as the countdown to February 4 starts.

With the AAP entering the fray as the third major force, the poll turf this time has queered the pitch for the poll pundits and soothsayers and has made their task even more difficult. Even as fortune tellers seem to be looking for clues, divergent pre-poll survey results by some television channels have further added to the confusion. ItÔÇÖs high time the pollsters stopped making wild guesses in the name of pre-poll surveys.

eMail: manish@dailyworld.in

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