Bihar election: Star pollsters fumble as NDA punches way above expectation

CVoter, which partnered with Times Now and ABP News, hit the bullseye in its vote share projection.

ByAyush Tiwari
Bihar election: Star pollsters fumble as NDA punches way above expectation
Anubhooti Gupta
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The state election in Bihar has scarred the shining moon of popular pollsters. Axis My India, which produced accurate seat share predictions in the general election in 2019, and in the state elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Delhi, fell significantly short of grasping the Bihari mood this year.

On November 7, India Today, the pollster’s partner channel, released the exit poll numbers. Axis My India predicted that the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led Grand Alliance would walk away with 139-161 seats across Bihar’s 38 districts – easily crossing the golden threshold of 122. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, it said, would garner only 69-91 seats in the 243-member house.

After a long day of counting on November 10, the NDA has clinched victory in Bihar with 125 seats. The Grand Alliance has been contained at 110.

Today’s Chanakya, which gave us solid predictions during the general election last year, also ran out of steam. With 55 seats, the pollster gave the lowest tally to the NDA. It put the Grand Alliance number at 180.

The figures given by these two exit polls at best reflected the trends of the first phase of polling in Bihar. The NDA and the Grand Alliance fared neck-to-neck in the second phase, and the former overwhelmingly dominated the last phase.

Not all exit polls were dismal. CVoter, which teamed up with Times Now and ABP News, not only vindicated its prediction of a close fight, but also produced an accurate vote share projection.

For pollsters, converting vote share into seats is the ultimate challenge. CVoter set aside 37.3 percent vote share for the NDA and 36.30 percent for the Grand Alliance.

As of 9.30 pm, the NDA had cornered 37.16 percent of the vote share in Bihar, while the Grand Alliance stood at 37.22 percent.

The Times Now-CVoter exit poll had predicted 120 seats for the Grand Alliance and 116 seats for the NDA.

Newslaundry asked Yashwant Deshmukh, the founder of CVoter, about what he did right that others did not. “We used good random probability standards, that’s it and nothing else,” Deshmukh said. “If you are doing a good sample, you will get the vote share. If you are not getting the right vote share, there is some serious problem in your sample collection.”

For Deshmukh, exit poll science at CVoter prefers an accurate vote share over an accurate seat projection. “I would rather have a wrong seat share but a better vote share. That’s when my science will satisfy me,” he said.

Vote shares offered by Axis My India and Today’s Chanakya were way off the mark. They gave NDA 39 percent and 34 percent vote share respectively, and 44 percent to the Grand Alliance.

Axis My India-India Today did not just get their seat projections and vote shares wrong. It also said that RJD chief Tejaswi Yadav was Bihar’s favourite man for the chief minister’s office. “Tejashwi Yadav to storm to power in Bihar,” was the exact wording.

Deshmukh told Newslaundry that there was anti-incumbency in Bihar and the RJD did make a dent in the NDA’s vote share, but the dent was minor. “What saved the day for the NDA were the female voters,” Deshmukh said. “Among them, Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar enjoyed a good image. These voters were angry with the implementation of alcohol prohibition, but they never doubted its intent. There might have been corruption due to the parallel economy erected by prohibition, but they did not directly associate it with the chief minister.”

Concluding the election coverage on India Today last night, journalist Rajdeep Sardesai acknowledged that the channel’s polling partner might have underestimated the impact of female voters in the Bihar elections. “The pollsters too have perhaps been taught a lesson by the voters in their own way. We accept that with all grace,” he said.

Polling science in India is not a cake walk. The serious players spend fortunes on maintaining a trained team of surveyors who are dispersed in battleground states to collect data. A team then needs to run this data through a working mathematical model that accounts fairly for the axes of caste, class, religion and gender. If they survive the tantrums of partner channels, the numbers finally see the light of day. And yet, most pollster produce junk predictions, and so PR and marketing becomes a crucial part of polling.

Most exit polls predicted superior chances for the RJD-led Grand Alliance in Bihar. The poll by TV9 Bharatvarsh said the NDA would pocket 110-120 seats in Bihar while the Grand Alliance will pick up 115-125 seats. Republic TV- Jan Ki Baat handed a triumph to the Grand Alliance, predicting 118 to 138 seats, while containing the NDA between 91 and 117 seats.

Newslaundry reached out to Pradeep Gupta, the chairman of Axis My India. He was not available for comment.

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