Exit polls: How accurate are they? A look back at 2004, 2009, 2014 predictions

FE Online

All eyes are on the exit polls scheduled to be broadcast after polling for the last phase of the Lok Sabha election is over. Polling for the 59 seats across eight states are currently underway and will conclude at 6:30 pm. Exits polls are different from the opinion polls. It’s a poll of voters taken after voting is over and it gives the trend of how people have voted. In other words, it gives a sense of which candidate is ahead of his rival in a particular constituency. The opinion polls are conducted before the start of elections. For this, the pollsters ask the people which party they would like to vote. But in exit polls, they find out which party or candidate the people have voted for.

How accurate exit polls are

Exit polls tell the mood of the people on the ground but their accuracy depends on multiple factors such as sample size, geographical coverage and the frankness of voters. Normally when people vote in clusters, it’s easy to gauge which way the wind is blowing. But a segment of people chose not to show their leanings and that’s where the pollsters get the numbers wrong. Exit polls have been sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

Here’s what exit polls predicted in the last three general elections and what the actual results were!

Exit Polls of 2014

CNN-IBN – CSDS Lokniti | NDA – 276, UPA-97, Others-148
India Today Cicero | NDA-272, UPA-115, Others- 156
News 24 Chanakya | NDA-340, UPA-70, Others-133
Times Now ORG | NDA-249, UPA-148, Others- 146
ABP News Nielsen | NDA-274, UPA-97, Others-165
NDTV Hansa Research | NDA-279, UPA-103, Others-161

Actual Results of 2014

NDA-336, UPA-66, Others-147
BJP-282, Congress-44

Exit Polls of 2009

CNN-IBN Dainik Bhaskar | UPA 185 205, NDA 165 185, Third Front 110 130, Fourth Front 25 35
Star-Nielsen | UPA 199, NDA 196, Third Front 100, Fourth Front 36
India TV CVoter | UPA 189 201, NDA 183 195, Third Front 105 121

Actual Results of 2009

UPA-262, NDA-159, Third Front-79, Fourth Front-27
Congress-206, BJP-116

Exit Polls of 2004

NDTV-AC Nielsen | NDA 230-250, Congress 190-205, Others 100-120
Aajtak ORG-MARG | NDA 248, Congress-190, Others-105
StarNews C-Voter | NDA 263-275, Congress 174-186, Others 86-98

Actual Results of 2004

UPA-208, NDA-181, Left Front-59
Congress-145, BJP-138

In 2014, most of the exit polls were accurate in predicting the pulse of the nation and gave the BJP-led NDA an edge over Congress-led UPA. The BJP got the absolute majority on its own by alone winning 282 seats. In 2009, the highest prediction for the UPA was 205 but it ended up winning 262 seats. Something similar happened in 2004 when all the exit polls went horribly wrong. All the exit polls predicted a win for NDA but it lost the election to the UPA.