SP seeks EC ban on opinion polls: Why they matter, why some politicos have expressed concern over them

Akhilesh Yadav's party in a letter to the Election Commission claimed that airing of these surveys is a violation of the model code of conduct and they can misguide the voters and influence the election

FP Staff January 24, 2022 15:35:02 IST
SP seeks EC ban on opinion polls: Why they matter, why some politicos have expressed concern over them

Image used for representational purposes. PTI

The Samajwadi Party has urged the Election Commission to stop the opinion polls being aired on some news channels with immediate effect.

In a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra, the party claimed that airing of the polls is a violation of Model Code of Conduct and Can misguide the voters and influence the election.

In a statement issued on Sunday, SP's chief spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said, "SP's UP unit chief Naresh Uttam Patel has written a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner stating that the voting for the final phase of the seven-phase UP election will be held on 7 March, while counting of votes will be held on 10 March.

“However, some news channels are showing opinion polls, which violates the model code of poll conduct, misguides the voters and also influences the poll," Chaudhary said.

Meanwhile, reacting to the plea, Uttar Pradesh Bharatiya Janata Party's spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi termed it as desperation on the part of SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, who he claimed was staring at a possible electoral defeat.

Sometimes he (Yadav) raises questions on the impartiality of the Election Commission, and sometimes he cries stating his weakness vis-a-vis the campaigning through the digital medium. Now, he is demanding that the surveys should be stopped, Tripathi said.

The reality is that he is feeling disturbed by the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath," he added.

Tripathi said banning of opinion polls would not save the SP from an electoral defeat.

Now let's take a brief look at opinion polls and why have there been repeated calls to ban them:

Opinion polls explained

An opinion poll is a survey of public opinion from a particular sample.

Opinion polls are usually designed to represent the opinions of a population by conducting a series of questions and then extrapolating generalities in ratio or within confidence intervals.

According to a report in The Conversation, the first opinion poll seems to have been published in 1824, when the Harrisburg Pennsylvanian newspaper correctly predicted the result of the US presidential election.

The report further explains how an opinion poll works: If you can get a sample of electors that’s representative of the whole electorate, you can ask them how they will vote and that will tell you, to a pretty good approximation, how the whole electorate will vote.

Rules surrounding opinion polls in India

The earliest attempt to regulate opinion polls was made in 1998 when the ECI took an overall view of the situation and issued an order laying down “Guidelines for Publication and Dissemination of Results of Opinion Polls/Exit Polls”, including government-controlled electronic media, in connection with the conduct of opinion polls and exit polls by them.

Currently, opinion polls are barred from being published in electronic media for 48 hours prior to an election in that polling area under Section 126(1)(b) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The contravention of Section 126(1)(b) is punishable under Section 126(2) with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine, or with both.

Earlier, the EC had withdrawn this rule following an adverse remark from the apex court. The apex court had made critical observations against the poll panel's power to ban publication of exit polls saying it involved citizens' right to speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution.

However, the rule was later ratified by Parliament.

Calls to ban opinion polls

The Samajwadi Party’s request to ban the publication of opinion polls is not the first time that such an appeal has been made.

In 2018, lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay had filed a plea in the apex court challenging the publication and telecast of opinion polls by the media from the date of the poll notification and till the elections in all phases are over.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud had refused to entertain the plea, saying there are many experts and it is a person's right to analyse a situation and give opinion, be it an incident or an election.

In 2013, a number of political parties joined the Congress in seeking a ban or regulation on opinion polls during the election process.

Akali Dal BSP, SP and DMK had supported the ban on opinion polls while CPI(M) and CPI favoured regulating such polls, especially once the elections are announced and Model Code of Conduct comes into force.

The Congress sought a ban on the exercise, saying these random surveys were "erroneous", "lack credibility" and could be "manipulated" by vested interests.

What’s the problem with opinion polls?

Many argue that opinion polls directly affect the sanctity and integrity of the electoral process. There are some political pundits who have said that opinion polls are able to influence electoral behaviour and distort electoral outcomes.

For instance, an opinion poll citing a candidate's victory could sway potential voters either in favour or against.

Another argument against opinion polls is that the information published could confuse a voter.

Some experts have also opined that as opinion polls are carried out by private entities, the results could be manipulated in lieu of financial or other gains.

There is also the issue of the sample size; if the sample size is too small or favours only one type of voter, the results are bound to be askew, not reflecting the true image, and affect the results.

With inputs from agencies

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