Exit polls: BJP is winning as many as 285 seats in Uttar Pradesh – or as few as 161

Rohan Venkataramakrishnan

If the exit polls are to believed – always a big if in Indian politics – all the talk of an equal contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance and the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh was misguided. Instead, the key metric would be to estimate how much of the BJP’s massive victory in 2014 has given way to others because of electoral drift. Every one of the exit polls that were put out on Thursday says the BJP will be the single largest party in Uttar Pradesh.

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That said, the gap between the biggest victory predicted for the BJP and the smallest one is massive: 124 seats. Today’s Chanakya is forecasting 285 seats for the BJP, with a margin that could even take it almost to 300, in the 404-strong assembly. Meanwhile, on the other end of the range is CVoter, which has predicted 161 seats to the BJP.

The other exit polls fall somewhere in between. CSDS-ABP and MRC have the BJP at more than 20 seats below the halfway mark of 202, while VMR puts the saffron party just on the verge of majority at 200. MyIndia-Axis, meanwhile, is much closer to the Today’s Chanakya prediction, with a forecast of 265 seats to the BJP, a figure that would give it a comfortable majority.

Today’s Chanakya and CVoter in fact, were the last exit polls to be released on Thursday. Until they were out, an average of the polls still suggested that the BJP would need help reaching the halfway mark, with a projected average seat share of around 180. Once those two polls were published though, the BJP’s average seat forecast moved much up nearly 30 seats to 211, which would allow it to form government.

Some amount of variation is expected, especially in attempting to generate a picture of elections in a state that has a population equal to Brazil. But the gap between the top and bottom suggests that there is no clear sense of how well the BJP has done, even as all exit polls are clear that the saffron party will be the largest in the state.

The hardest part of putting together polls in India is finding a way to take estimated vote shares, which are relatively easier to sample, and turn those into projected seat shares. India’s first past the post system makes this particularly complicated. This is because even if a party has a massive vote share, if those votes aren’t distributed well, they don’t necessarily correspond to a large seat share.

Some of the variation in the seat shares given to the BJP might be down to how the pollster is calculating that conversion from vote share, especially since the other trend – of BJP being the largest party – is consistent across all polls.