Electoral Reforms In India

Exit Polls and their Regulation in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Exit poll

Mains level: Read the attached story


As voting for Gujarat elections ended, exit polls are out on the news channels.

What are Exit Polls?

  • An exit poll asks voters which political party they are supporting after they have cast their votes in an election.
  • In this, it differs from an opinion poll, which is held before the elections.
  • An exit poll is supposed to give an indication of which way the winds are blowing in an election, along with the issues, personalities, and loyalties that have influenced voters.
  • Today, exit polls in India are conducted by a number of organisations, often in tie-ups with media organisations.
  • The surveys can be conducted face to face or online.

Issues with exit polls

  • Accuracy: Some common parameters for a good, or accurate, opinion poll would be a sample size that is both large and diverse, and a clearly constructed questionnaire without an overt bias.
  • Politicization: Political parties often allege that these polls are motivated, or financed by a rival party.
  • Manipulation for popularity: Critics also say that the results gathered in exit polls can be influenced by the choice, wording and timing of the questions, and by the nature of the sample drawn.

History of exit polls in India

  • In 1957, during the second Lok Sabha elections, the Indian Institute of Public Opinion had conducted such a poll.

Rules governing exit polls in India

  • In India, results of exit polls for a particular election are not allowed to be published till the last vote has been cast.
  • The issue of when exit polls should be allowed to be published has gone to the Supreme Court thrice in various forms.
  • Currently, exit polls can’t be telecast from before voting begins till the last phase concludes.

Need of such polls

  • Popular opinion: Polls are simply a measurement tool that tells us how a population thinks and feels about any given topic.
  • Specific viewpoint: Polls tell us what proportion of a population has a specific viewpoint.
  • Opportunity to express: Opinion polling gives people who do not usually have access to the media an opportunity to be heard.

Issues with such polls (in context of elections)

  • Authenticity: Critics have often questioned their authenticity.
  • Manipulation of voters: This largely manipulates voting behavior.
  • Sensationalization by media: The media, on the other hand, invariably opposes the idea of a ban as seat forecasts attract primetime viewership.
  • Ridiculing the public mandate: The exit polls largely disrespect public opinions inciting confusion regarding the election mandate.

Why does it persist in India?

Ans. Exercise of Free Speech

  • The opposition to the ban in India is mainly on the ground that freedom of speech and expression is granted by the Constitution (Article 19).
  • What is conveniently forgotten is that this freedom is not absolute and allows for “reasonable restrictions” in the same article.

Limited restrictions that we have in India

  • RP Act: The Indian Penal Code and Representation of the People Act, 1951 do contain certain restrictions against disinformation.
  • Restrictions on A19: While the Constitution allows for reasonable restrictions on freedom of expression, its mandate to the ECI for free and fair elections is absolute.
  • Supreme Court interpretations: The Supreme Court (SC), in a series of judgments, has emphasized this requirement.
  • Basic structure doctrine: It considers free and fair elections is the basic structure of the Constitution (PUCL vs Union of India, 2003; NOTA judgment, 2013).

How does it impact the election process?

  • Prevalence of paid news in India: Having seen “paid news” in action, it apprehends that some opinion polls may be sponsored, motivated and biased.
  • Opacity: Almost all polls are non-transparent, providing little information on the methodology.
  • Propaganda: Subtle propaganda on casteist, religious and ethnic basis as well as by the use of sophisticated means like the alleged poll surveys create public distrust in poll process.
  • Disinformation: With such infirmities, many “polls” amount to misinformation that can result in “undue influence”, which is an “electoral offense” under IPC Section 171 (C). It is a “corrupt practice” under section 123 (2) of the RP Act.
  • Betting: The polling agencies manipulate the margin of error, victory margin for candidates, seat projections for a party or hide negative findings.

Way forward

  • Independent regulator: Ideally a body like the British Polling Council would be a viable option. India could set up its own professional, self-regulated body on the same lines say Indian Polling Council.
  • Mandatory disclosure: All polling agencies must disclose for scrutiny the sponsor, besides sample size, methodology, time frame, quality of training of research staff, etc.


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