She may well be correct. But my question is why we need these forecasts at all? What is their purpose? As she put it, the journalists and the pollsters alike are intrigued by the question which they pose to themselves: which way would the vote go? She says: “Across TV channels, pollsters described U.P. as a nightmare, difficult to read, impossible to call. The pollsters were confused, not the voters.
Opinion polling is a valuable tool, whether in market research, in the social sciences or in politics. The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies has incisively analysed changing political trends and shifting voter loyalties, drawing from a database compiled during the course of successive elections.” But she did not answer the question why we need the forecasts at all – whether it is a nightmare, or an arm-chair theorizing is secondary. Whether it is a print journalist or a pollster, it makes no sense to suggest that they should be obsessed with forecasting, rather than with the issues, the voters’ concerns, and the parties’ strategies. There is no evidence to suggest that forecasts help the political parties to make mid-course correctives, to improve their actual chances at the hustings. There is no evidence to suggest that the viewers/readers believe forecasts would help them vote better. (on the contrary, forecasts are suspected to influence the voter decision, and hence there are well-reasoned demands that they should be banned/ restricted). Do the forecasts leave the viewer/reader in any sense better informed about their parties and candidates? Even here, as Vidya has pointed out the scope for misleading is immense, considering the disproportionate advantage the BJP secured in these polls all these years. A print journalist like Vidya, even if she is reasonably sure that BSP would get absolute majority, would be reluctant to say so in her reports before the elections, precisely because a contrary result would cause sufficient professional embarrassment. The HT, for instance, depending on the forecasts that a hung assembly is in the offing, carried a front page story on the possible scenarios, based on various permutations and combinations, a day before the actual results were out. In retrospect, such stories were absolutely unnecessary, and served no reader interest. Similar was a story in The Hindu, on possible options before the Governor in the event of a hung assembly based on the views of so-called legal experts. In retrospect, we could have well had no such hypothetical analyses, if the forecasts were not there – whether coming from sophisticated pollsters, or from ‘ear-to-the-ground’ print journalists making some qualified forecasts in the midst of their copies. It serves no purpose absolutely. The data the pollsters may generate would be useful, but not the forecasts, which in their own assessment, may turn out to be inaccurate, or may even be quite off the mark. In my view, even if the forecasts turn out to be correct, they would have served no purpose, from the point of view of most stake-holders, except the pollsters and the channels, and the print journalists who could have the satisfaction of saying “I told you so”. But I agree that there will be some interest in knowing why and how the psephologists failed to forecast the U.P.results – not necessarily because correct forecast would have served any good purpose, but just to satisfy our curiosity.