[Editorial] Why Opinion Polls Need Regulation?

opinion poll

What the editorial is about?

How opinion polls interfere with free and fair elections.

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Context:

Upcoming Legislative Assembly Elections 2022 of Punjab, UP, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand.

Opinion Polls

  • An inquiry into public opinion conducted by interviewing a random sample of people before actual Election Day.

Why Opinion Polls?

  • Opinion polls help one determine what their demographic is largely thinking or feeling concerning one’s project or brand.
  • By asking the consumers specific questions through polls, one may get an overview of the general perspective. And then, one can take the necessary actions.

Benefits of Conducting an Opinion Poll

  • Opinion polls allow you to ask your demographic an objective question about one’s brand or project. Its result largely reflects their opinions and feelings, leaving one with the decision for further processing.

To Get a Sense of the Majority Opinion

  • Opinion polls are best to know what the general demographic thinks or feels about the given subject.
  • Rather than having you conduct elections, this option comes as an affordable one. We can save time, money, and effort while also arriving at a conclusion.

For Potential Accuracy

  • Randomness can be the best bet at creating dependable accuracy.
  • Opinion polls focus on randomly interviewing your audience without giving them a whole lot to think about. It cuts out other distracting questions and the pressure to justify themselves.
  • So, the potential for an accurate first-thought answer is at one’s disposal.

To Negate Thinking Errors

  • A large part of the demographic usually bases its opinion on the facts relevant to the topic. If these facts are false understandings by chance, opinion polls can help get rid of the error. This option makes it possible for you to come up with ways to change their minds.
  • Since opinion polls offer people a platform to see the aspect objectively, this positive walks right in.

Affordability

  • Opinion polls are much more affordable than any other avenue or platform.
  • One reason behind it is the bare minimum time it takes up. Many people find it affordable to spend five seconds or ten on a simple poll, so you end up with a lot more responses.
  • Besides, it is also affordable for you. After all, it saves one all the time, money, and effort that would otherwise go into processing.

Scenario around the world

  • In most democracies, opinion and exit polls are common during elections. However, restrictions are also imposed in many countries, extending from two to 21 days prior to the poll — Canada, France, Italy, Poland, Turkey, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, to name a few examples.
  • In India, it cannot be published during the period of Election Silence, i.e., 48 hours before the close of voting.

How does the opinion polls interfere with free and fair elections?

  • Having seen “paid news” in action, it apprehends that some opinion polls may be sponsored, motivated and biased.
  • Almost all polls are non-transparent, providing little information on the methodology.
  • With such infirmities, many “polls” amount to misinformation that can result in “undue influence”, which is an “electoral offence” under IPC Section 171 (C). It is a “corrupt practice” under section 123 (2) of the RP Act.
  • The print media is sought to be exploited by interested individuals or groups to misguide and mislead the unwary voters by subtle and not so subtle propaganda on casteist, religious and ethnic basis as well as by the use of sophisticated means like the alleged poll surveys.

Other Issues with the Opinion Polls

Chances of Inaccuracy

  • Although very few, there could be one or two cases of inaccuracy in the answers or data you collect. Since opinion polls only ever take in a yes or no, or objective data getting a clear picture can be difficult.
  • It leaves room and scope for interpretation, and sometimes, it could turn into misinterpretation too.

Altering Answers

  • Depending on their access to the results, the participants could also change their answers to side with the majority.
  • Such cases call for errors. And these errors could be detrimental for your brand or project because you would not get the right idea of what your demographic is really thinking.

Way Forward

The Indian Polling Council

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

Conclusion

  • Opinion polls, without a doubt, are the easiest method of gathering data from your consumer market.
  • While the benefit here lies with the access to better objective decisions, disadvantages also might follow.
  • Despite EC’s efforts, the broad consensus from political parties, opinion polls continue to undermine elections and therefore it needs regulations.

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