The story exit polls in India


Come Sunday, the entire nation will be glued to TV from evening to see the exit polls beaming from almost all TV channels of India and India will have an idea what is in the store when on may 23 actual votes will be counted.

But the question is how far the exit polls are correct and how now they have been able to predict the voting.


It all started in the mid-1980s when election surveys were conducted . Election surveys and later exit polls began gaining traction in India in the mid-1980s when chartered accountant-turned-journalist Pranoy Roy conducted opinion polls to gauge voters’ mood in the election. In the initial years, exit polls were published in magazines with India Today playing the leader.

But the actual exit poll began in 1996, 13 years from now.


It was the public broadcaster Doordarshan commissioned the exit polls, which were conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies The CSDS exit polls predicted a fractured mandate, which was an accurate assessment.

The BJP emerged as the single-largest party but well short of a majority. Atal Bihari Vajpayee formed the government after being invited by the President. He resigned in 13 days and was followed by HD Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral in quick succession.


In 1998 the top four election surveys India Today/CSDS, DRS, Outlook/AC Nielsen and Frontline/CMS showed the BJP-led NDA emerging clear favourite but falling short of the majority mark of 272 seats in the 1998 Lok Sabha poll. The result varied from 214 to 249 for the NDA while the Congress-led alliance was predicted to win 145-164 seats. 

Eventually, the NDA won 252 while the Congress got 166 seats in the Lok Sabha election in 1998.


in 1999, almost all the polls overestimated the victory of the BJP-led coalition under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. All the major election surveys by India Today/Insight, HT-AC Nielsen, Times poll/DRS, Pioneer-RDI and Outlook/CMS predicted more than 300 seats for the BJP and its alliance partners.

The NDA won a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha but fell four short of 300-mark in the house.

The Congress-plus was somewhat accurately predicted to win between 132 and 150 seats. The coalition got 134 seats. The poll surveys failed to correctly estimate the influence of third force, which got 113 against the prediction of as low as 34 and a high of 95 seats.


In 2004 it was a complete failure of the exit poll to gauge the mood.  All the exit polls predicted the easy return of the Vajpayee government with half of them awarding simple majority to the NDA.

Eventually, the NDA could not cross the 200-mark. It was reduced to 189. The Congress-led coalition won 222 and ran a coalition government.


It was a bad day for exit poll in 2009. The exit polls suggested a tough fight between the ruling UPA and challenger NDA with Nielsen’s survey giving 199 and 197 seats to the two blocks respectively.

In the actual results, the UPA won 262 seats, and the NDA got 159, and the exit polls suffered a massive loss of credibility.


In 2014 Lok Sabha election, exit polls were successful could successfully sense a Modi wave predict a win for the BJP-led NDA. Almost all the exit polls showed the NDA’s easy victory. while one of them, the most accurate one, predicted 291 seats for the BJP and 340 for the NDA.

Eventually, when the results were announced, the BJP got 282 seats and the NDA won 336 in the 543-member Lok Sabha.  However, the exit poll could not foresee Congress’s downslide. All but one predicted 100-135 seats but  Congress won 44 and UPA got just 59.

Now on Sunday evening another set of exit poll results will come and let’s see how far the pollsters are correct this time.

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