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What global trends suggest and what it means for PM Modi: Pollsters have a tendency to significantly underestimate right-wing votes

Opinion Polls have consistently failed to accurately predict results is not the only lesson to take from here. More than just failing to predict elections, they have regularly underestimated the support for Center-Right political parties.

With the last phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections underway, it is only a matter of hours before the Exit Polls are released. While the Opinion Polls prior to the elections had indicated a BJP victory, the Exit Polls are expected to hint towards the same. However, such numbers, as global results have shown, must be treated with a fair bit of caution.

It all began with the 2014 Indian Lok Sabha elections. While most had predicted the BJP to emerge as the single largest party, none apart from Today’s Chanakya had predicted the utter rout of the Congress and the UPA and a single party majority in the Lower House of the Parliament. Since then, the legitimacy of such polls have come under severe scrutiny and they are on the verge of being discredited. Let us now look at some global events that have shaped that impression.

1. United Kingdom’s European Union Referendum (2016)

In the immediate run-up to the polls, most polling agencies had given the Remain Campaign the edge. Some had even given them a resounding victory. In TV studios as well, it felt like the Remainers had already won.

YouGov gave the Remain Campaign a victory with 4% (52%-48%). Populus predicted a victory for the Remainers with a margin of 10%, Ipsos Mori gave Remainers a 3% edge. ComRes gave Remainers a lead of 8% on the basis of those expressing an intent to vote. Only TNS and Opinium gave the Leave Campaign a slender victory with 2% and 1% margins.

When the results were eventually declared on the 23rd of June, the UK had voted to leave the European Union. The Leave Campaign had managed to secure a victory with a margin of almost 4%, 3.89% to be precise. Thus, even those who had predicted a Brexit victory came nowhere close to accurately predicting the margin of victory. It became evident that they had severely underestimated the hidden Brexit voter.

2. The US Presidential Elections (2016)

Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US Presidential Elections is regarded as the greatest upset in the history of democratic politics. Ever since Trump announced his campaign, absolutely no one apart from Trump’s close associates gave him any chance of victory.

“Donald Trump will never be the Republican nominee,” was the cry until the last moment of his announcement as the official candidate from the Republican party. “Donald Trump will never be President,” was the cry till he secured the 271st delegate. And the Opinion Polls of the voters reflected that opinion.

Every single poll going into Election Night gave Hillary Clinton a significant edge over her Republican rival. The lowest margin of victory was 1.9% while most gave her between 3-4% while some even gave her a more than 4% margin of victory. While these polls could be said to have predicted the national aggregate accurately as Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote by a fairly large margin, they failed spectacularly to ascertain the delegates the candidates would win.

Source: Wikipedia

In the run-up to it, none of the pollsters apart from the Los Angeles Times gave Donald Trump any serious chance of victory. More than that, media outlets gave Hillary Clinton outlandish chances of victory. Huffington Post gave Hillary Clinton a 98.2% chance of victory on Election Day, CNN gave her a 91% chance of victory the day before polling, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, widely considered to be one of the best pollsters around, gave the Democratic candidate more than a 70% chance of winning.

However, by the time the night was over, Donald Trump was declared the President-Elect of the United States of America. Hillary Clinton was so devastated that she could not bring herself to address her people the same night. Since then, the Liberal camp, unable to believe what had exactly happened on the 8th of November, has descended into harbouring delusions about Russian Collusion.

3. The Australian Federal Elections (2019)

In a ‘miracle victory’, incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison managed to retain power as all 151 seats in the House of Representatives and 40 of the 76 seats in the Senate went to polls. The centre-right coalition managed to win 73 seats while the Australian Labor party won 65 with the fate of 7 seats still in doubt.

In the run-up to the polls again, every single pollster had predicted Morrison to lose. The mood was such that even the man himself considered it a miracle. “I am standing with the three biggest miracles of my life here tonight and tonight we have been delivered another one,” he said while addressing his supporters with his wife and daughters.

To be able to truly gauge the magnitude of the upset, one needs only read this tweet by a senior journalist.

Social Media is abuzz ever since the results were declared and people are expressing their disgust towards such polls.

The Left-Liberal crowd are having a complete meltdown on social media over the results. Opinion Polls had them convinced that they were winning the elections comfortably. However, things haven’t worked out very well for them.

What It Means for Lok Sabha Election 2019

Opinion Polls have consistently failed to accurately predict results is not the only lesson to take from here. More than just failing to predict elections, they have regularly underestimated the support for Center-Right political parties.

The reasons for this could be numerous. Firstly, it could be the result of the confirmation bias on the part of the pollsters themselves. Unconsciously or consciously, they have projected their own sentiments on to the populace they surveyed. Secondly, it could be the fact that Western countries have become so polarized that expressing any right-wing political opinions at all gets one labelled a Nazi, people are much less inclined to reveal their true political preferences to pollsters. Therefore, the percentage of the silent right-wing vote is significant enough to change the results completely. Thirdly, it could be the fact that the pollsters themselves are not very competent at their job and are prone to getting things wildly wrong.

Thus, with Exit Polls expected to be released very soon now, people should take them with a pinch of salt. If the current elections follow the general trend, then again for this election, pollsters will underestimate the vote-share of the NDA quite significantly.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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