C-Voter sting: Don't throw baby out with the bathwater, says expert
research groups involved in conducting election surveys say the answer to the credibility crisis that opinion polls are facing is regulation, not a ban.
Following disturbing revelations about polling agencies offering made-to-order election surveys, the chorus by political parties to ban polls is only likely to get stronger. Titled Operation Prime Minister, a sting operation by a television news channel called News Express has exposed how leading polling agencies are willing to manipulate election surveys to suit political parties for a fee.
While the Aam Admi Party and the Congress have called for an investigation into the matter, Union Minister Kapil Sibal, comparing the practice to “paid-news, manufactured to serve vested interests”, has asked the Election Commission to step in.
In November last year the Election Commission had written to the Centre to enact a law banning opinion polls once elections are announced. Fifteen political parties including the Congress, Janata Dal (United), Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samajwadi Party, DMK and AIDMK, in response to views sought by the Election Commission, had favoured the ban. Parties had expressed concerns about the manipulation of such polls and use of unscientific methods to conduct them.
However, research groups involved in conducting election surveys say the answer to the credibility crisis that opinion polls are facing is regulation, not a ban.
Says Sandeep Shastri, political scientist and national coordinator of the Lokniti network, reacting to the findings of the sting operation, “It is for this reason that we have been emphasising the importance of transparency about data, techniques and methodology used to conduct surveys. It would be good if other agencies who conduct such studies were to let everybody know what their procedures are, what their techniques and how they come up with their projections.” Lokniti is a research programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) with a reputation for conducting scientific and transparent election surveys.
Asked what impact the sting operation would have on the already battered credibility of opinion polls, Shastri says, “Over time people will learn to make the distinction between surveys that are done scrupulously, scientifically and transparently and those done keeping other perspectives in mind….In order to gain public confidence there is need for transparency in terms of techniques used and in how the results were arrived at. End of the day, any survey must represent the larger universe it is trying to speak about. And secondly, there must be an element of integrity in how the agency projects what the survey reveals. Unless these two dimensions are taken into account, it will be difficult for people to accept the findings of the surveys.”
Arguing against a blanket ban on opinion polls, Shastri says regulation should be the way forward. “There must be regulation to insist that any agency that conducts and publishes opinion polls must come out transparently with its results and the procedures it follows.”
To ban all opinion polls, he says, “would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If there are problems in the way people have done things, the answer lies in ensuring that there is proper regulation and to ensure it happens right rather than doing away with the whole exercise.”
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