Thursday, 3 April 2014

Opinion Polls

The elections of 2014 are widely considered as a watershed election. India today finds itself in a cusp of change confronted with political parties who have no particular ideological anchor or are backed by strong state leaders in national parties, which in many ways, are a blend of regional parties. With the strengthening of intra-party coalition set-ups, it would be safe to say that political parties in India are undergoing a process of major churning. As India goes to polls in less than a week, the role and debate around opinion polls is back in action. 

Opinion polls shape public opinion as much as they reflect it. Opinion polls affect expectations about the outcome and expectations which further align with preferences and parties. Public opinion polls now play an important role in influencing voters. They are used throughout the course of election campaigns by candidates and by the media to see which candidates are ahead and who is likely to emerge victorious. The results of these polls, in turn, largely determine where future campaign monies are to be spent and where each candidate's efforts will be concentrated until the close of the election campaign.

Opinion polls have always been about both business and analysis: about symbiotic relationships between the media and its consumers as much as the relationship between the citizenry and their political choices. There is no doubt that opinion polls affect expectations about the possible outcome after a long election season and expectations often align with preferences and parties. In short, opinion polls play a significant role in shaping the course of politics as it helps gauge public opinion to see which candidates are possibly front-runners and who is likely to clinch the coveted title.

Most polls are a result of fairly robust exercises which are often led by social scientists with a fair degree of experience. Despite embarrassments like the 2004 General Elections, there is little to suggest that opinion polls are not a definitive exercise in election forecasting. Although there might be chances of the final tally being wrong, it is not necessarily due to an inherent bias or a result of poor polling. Rather, it must be seen as a reflection of the differences of distilling into a handful of numbers and the diversity of the Indian electorate and the fickleness of Indian politics. 

It is hard to overstate the influence of opinion polls in India. It is hard to overstate the influence of opinion polls in India. The Internet does help in reiterating opinions cannot be divorced from the aspirations of the general public. Opinion polls not only measure public views but also shape them as much as they come to dominate news wheels as it determines attitudes, records disapproval of certain figures and eventually circles back to influence content and weigh the strength of opinions and attitudes. Public understanding flourishes in a variable manner and can certainly influence the course a nation adopts. 

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