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Last Updated : May 20, 2019 02:56 PM IST | Source:

Politics | Exit polls may be understating the NDA's tally

Three reasons why the BJP-led NDA could see a landslide victory on May 23.

Nazim Khan @nazim2803

Voting for the 17th Lok Sabha came to a close on May 19 and the exit polls delivered a surprise. While talk during the election campaign centred around whether the BJP-led NDA would be able to attain the magical 272 mark in the absence of a ‘Modi wave’, exit polls show that the ruling alliance may face no such problem.

Pollsters have forecast the NDA to get anywhere between 277 and 365 seats. But it is possible that the alliance’s eventual tally could actually be higher – or at least the higher end of the range forecast.

There are a few reasons for this.


One, exit polls are generally a reliable gauge of which way the wind is blowing – they tend to get the direction right – but they often underestimate the trend’s strength.

We saw signs of this in 2014 when most exit polls correctly forecast the NDA as achieving a simple majority but fell short in their pinpoint estimate.

To be sure, exit polls have failed to also get the direction right – let alone the extent – such as in 2004 or 2009. But 2009 was seen as a status quoist mandate, rather than an election that had a strong undercurrent, as evidenced in its moderate turnout, making it difficult for pollsters to estimate the trend, let alone its extent.

By many accounts, 2004 was similar to 2019 -- a reformist and a strong government seeking a mandate amid perceived economic distress. But the similarities stopped there; the BJP today is a far bigger party than it was in 2004, and Narendra Modi is a stronger leader than Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Two, there is some evidence that opinion or exit polls are failing to fully capture the right wing vote share. This wasn’t the case in 2004 or 2009 when exit polls were too optimistic about the BJP’s prospects rather than pessimistic.

But the global rise of right-wing politics took place around the end of the last decade – around the time of the financial crisis. Since then, there have been several instances of polls underestimating the right wing’s vote share: be it BJP in 2014, Brexit in 2016, the US election later that same year, or, most recently, the Australian elections a few days ago.

A third factor could be West Bengal, a state that witnessed a ferocious battle between the BJP – a party that hitherto had very little presence in the state, and the ruling TMC.

Given the BJP’s lack of presence in the state previously, pollsters would have had difficulty modelling the party’s vote share. This could have resulted in not just uncertainty in the pollsters’ minds – forecasts for the BJP range from 3 to 20 seats – but also possibly conservatism in projecting its tally.

Assume the BJP puts up a strong performance in West Bengal and Odisha, another state in which it wasn’t a force previously, it would mean the difference between strong performance and a landslide.

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First Published on May 20, 2019 12:44 pm
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