(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 10, 2013
On Opinion Polls
A BIG hue and cry has been raised over the central Election Commission’s exercise of seeking opinion of all political parties on the question of banning opinion polls before an election. The principal opposition party – the BJP – and sections of the media are terming this exercise as an outrageous attack on the freedom of speech and media freedom. In this context, it is necessary to consider certain points.
First, this is not the first time that such an exercise has been initiated by the Election Commission seeking political parties’ opinions. Over a decade ago, it was as a result of such consultations that exit polls were banned to be published, once the polling process had begun, till they ended. This is because polls take place in different phases and the publication of exit poll results, correct or incorrect, would result in influencing the voters in the next phase. At that point of time, the question of opinion polls was also discussed but no decision was taken on this matter.
Secondly, it is, indeed, strange that the BJP should now decry this exercise as denying the people their basic right to information. In the first place, opinion polls are not information. They are, as the name suggests, opinions. And, opinions are meant to influence. By definition, opinions are not neutral information, or, objective news. Further, in a similar exercise conducted by the Election Commission after the 2004 general elections, the BJP held the exact opposite view arguing for the banning of publication of opinion polls after the statutory notification for elections has been issued. The Election Commission issued a public document stating: “The unanimous view of all the participating members was that conducting the opinion polls and publishing results thereof should not be allowed from the day of issue of statutory notification calling the election and till the completion of the poll” (Proposed Electoral Reforms: An Election Commission document, July 2004).
Clearly, therefore, the BJP is seeking to influence the voters in an undue fashion before the elections through manipulated opinion polls and if that fails as it did in 2004, then plead for the banning of the publication of such polls! This, in itself, betrays the reality that opinion polls are often used as tools for electoral propaganda rather than being news that conveys objective opinions of those surveyed.
Thirdly, sections of
the media argue
that why should the Indian people be denied the right to such
most Western democracies permit
opinion polls. This
is not correct. In
many Western democracies, a practice is
followed where the central idea is to allow
a period of silence or reflection to permit the
balancing out of
opinions and views before the ballot day.
to any concept of
freedom is that the concerned right is free.
If there is a price to be paid for the concerned right,
then there is no
Under these circumstances, it is fair to suggest that while there should be no blanket banning of opinion polls, this should not be published for a reasonable period, say, from the date of the statutory notification of the election till the polls are completed. The length of this period, however, would have to be defined and announced by the Election Commission after serious consultations and deliberations.
Finally, apart from
the fact that
almost every poll in the past was proved
to be wrong by
the electorate, may be
due to the unscientific methodology or too narrow a base, any
judgement on the
Indian voters’ mentality is fraught
when psephology and opinion polls
(November 6, 2013)