An overwhelming majority of exit polls have predicted a return of the NDA government. One dataset even suggests 365 seats for the ruling alliance, in the recently concluded marathon Lok Sabha polls.
Going by most exit polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah’s Bharatiya Janata Party is on course to win the general elections, 2019. The only two polls that suggest otherwise are by ABP-Nielsen and NewsX; according to them, the BJP-led NDA will fall short of a majority in the 543-member lower house of the Parliament.
After one of the most polarising and bitterly-fought elections in India’s political history, the numbers suggest that the primary opposition party, Indian National Congress, will be restricted to a double-digit figure with its parliamentary occupancy hovering near 80. The alliance it leads at the national level—UPA—is predicted to win 107-164 seats.
In the 2014 elections, BJP won 282 seats, leading the NDA to a tally of 336 seats in the Lok Sabha. A party or coalition needs 272 seats in the parliament to form a government.
Here are the numbers and the trends they project
- Times Now: NDA 306, UPA 132, Others 104
- India News: NDA 298, UPA 118, Others 127
- Republic: NDA 295-315, UPA 122-125, Others 102-125 (Republic TV has done two exit polls. According to CVoter NDA will get 287, UPA 128, others 127. Jan Ki Baat prediction is: NDA 305, UPA 124, Others 87, Mahagathbandhan 26)
- NDTV’s poll of exit polls gives NDA 300, UPA 127 and Others 115
- IANS CVOTER: BJP: 236, Congress: 80; NDA: 287 (BJP: 236, BPF: 1, JD(U)+LJP: 20, Shiv Sena: 15, NPP: 1, NDPP: 1, SAD: 1, SPM: 1, AIADMK+: 10, Apna Dal: 1)
- Neta-News X: NDA 242, UPA 164, Others 136
- News 18-IPSOS: NDA 336, UPA 82, Others 124
- ABP-Nielsen: NDA 267, UPA 127, others 148; (BJP 218, Congress 81)
- India Today-Axis My India: NDA 339-365, UPA 77-108, Others 69-95
India Today-Axis My India has conducted a survey for each parliamentary seat, perhaps a first in the Indian elections scenario.
Their state-wise picture suggests near-sweeps by the DMK+ in Tamil Nadu, the UDF in Kerala, the TRS in Telangana, and the YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh. In Karnataka, the BJP appears to have overcome the challenge from the Congress-JDS alliance.
State-wise data for most polls have thrown a surprise in the direction of states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha.
In 2014, the BJP won 71 seats in UP, but the Nielsen-ABP poll suggests that this time it will lose as many as 51 of those seats to powerful regional parties like SP and BSP. Other polls, however, have reserved up to 68 out of the state’s 80 seats for the BJP, noting how the SP-BSP coalition has failed to smash the BJP as intended.
While the BJP stands to lose considerable seats in Uttar Pradesh and a couple of other western states, exit polls suggest it would compensate the losses by making steady gains in eastern states previously thought untouchable and unfortunately, at the expense of the Left and Congress.
According to ex-poll analyst and farmer’s rights activist Yogendra Yadav, BJP’s surge in Bengal could even be bigger than what the exit polls are predicting.
“When a party experiences a surge in a new state, as the BJP has in West Bengal, it is very difficult for polls to estimate its extent,” he writes, in response to a fake WhatsApp message presently doing the rounds with predictions citing Yadav. Odisha is telling us a similar story, he writes for The Print.
In Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh, three states that Congress swept in the Assembly polls just last year, voters seem to have swung in favour of a return to BJP governance, as the exit polls for LS polls suggest.
What does it say about the future?
With 900 million eligible voters, the world’s biggest exercise in democracy took place in seven phases beginning April 11 and ending May 19. Many saw this election as a battle for India’s identity and the state of its minorities. Other raging issues included unemployment, inflation, farmer’s crisis, and national security.
If the numbers are indeed true and NDA secures a landslide victory on May 23, it will have proven that the country lacks a decisive Opposition or impressive enough alternative to Narendra Modi as PM; that the Congress is not willing to cede its position to upcoming regional powers even if that would mean a stronger alternative federal front against the BJP; and that the BJP has successfully bridged the rural-urban divide across polarising religious lines over the five years.
How to read the exit polls?
Exit polls are taken more seriously than pre-poll surveys or even tracker surveys because they are based on responses by voters returning from the polling booth.
The methodology has improved over the years, while constituency-wise detailing varies from one agency to another. However, existing challenges include the tricky conversion of vote share to seat-share and the obscurity around caste arithmetic and poll turnout.
India Today’s Rahul Kanwal tweeted on May 19: “Sample size for @IndiaToday@AxisMyIndia post poll study has already crossed 7,40,000 respondents. By the time pollling ends final sample size will be close to 8 lakhs. In 2014, post poll size was 36,000. This poll is 20 times bigger. Big boss of exit polls.”
But there is no way of knowing whether the roughly 1,400 sample per constituency which India Today-Axis claims, has a balanced proportion of different social groups. If methodological details such as these were shared transparently, the discourse around predicting election outcomes would have been much more informed in India, Hindustan Times notes.
Opposition reacts: EVM concerns
Many in the Opposition, as well as exit-poll sceptics, are holding on to the hope that the reality would paint a different picture on May 23. Citing examples from history, they are entertaining the thought that the results may be slightly more favourable for the anti-BJP front.
In 2004, for example, most of the exit polls had predicted victory for Atal Bihari Vajpayee and grossly underestimated the UPA’s performance, but the actual results stunned everybody.
In 2014 too, most exit polls got the trend right, but underestimated the extent of BJP-led NDA’s victory.
More recently, in the Australian national elections, all the opinion polls yielded the wrong mandate and upset expectations on the day of the actual poll count when the ruling coalition defied the surveys to defeat the Labour party. Both Brexit and the US presidential election results were a surprise, where exit polls, psephologists and popular media had predicted that the ‘Remain’ camp and Hillary Clinton, respectively, would win.
“Exit polls have always underestimated the performance of Aam Aadmi Party, whereas the BJP is always overestimated. 2019 is a very polarised election,” Raghav Chadha, spokesperson for the AAP that has been awarded zero seats in Delhi, said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urged the Opposition not to trust exit poll gossip,” and reportedly believes a conspiracy to tamper and replace EVMs is afoot. Punjab CM and Congress veteran Amarinder Singh has also voiced his disbelief in the numbers.
Notwithstanding debates on whether the sample for surveys are representative enough or not, the fact remains that exit polls are the most effective tool to forecast elections. We will have to wait until May 23 to know whether they are right or not.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.