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Polls & Pollsters

Monday, February 11, 2019
By Prashant Hamine

Last week, the visit of election strategist Prashant Kishor to Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray's residence albeit to offer some tips on how to win elections and offer the services of his poll machinery comes as a bit of a surprise. For a party that prides itself for having an organizational structure that runs through Shakhas at grassroots level, requires the assistance of a pollster to checkmate and outscore its own estranged ruling ally the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hard to understand. Maybe it could well be a ploy to keep its nervous Lok Sabha MP’s from having second thoughts about searching for greener pastures elsewhere, or simply junk the idea of contesting the elections at all.

Fascination with Pollsters, Opinion Polls, Exit Polls and Surveys has not been new ever since election forecasting began with Prannoy Roy's 'India Decides' in 1989. Since then, opinion and exit polls have been a staple diet on which we are fed constantly before any elections. Though by and large it involves lot of number crunching, analytics, tallying up past election results, our own experience as worldwide experience has been for pollster agencies like Gallup, that it has its own inherent pitfalls. For, it relies heavily on sample sizes and opinions which may or may not be accurate to predict the outcome of an election.

Moreover, in a diverse country like ours, people tend to vote differently for Lok Sabha, Assembly or even in civic elections. Elections these days have become creating perceptions and winning those battles of perception. There are several deciding factors like caste, creed, monetary, development, political parties, grassroots connect, candidates, anti-incumbency, social media, past results and trends that tend to influence the voter in varying degrees and order. So that is why often opinion or exit polls get it horribly wrong as people do not really reveal their true preference. The advent of influencers and support groups on social media has only further complicated matters.

The same Prashant Kishor who catapulted Narendra Modi to Prime Ministers Office in 2014, failed to weave the same kind of magic for the Congress in 2017 in Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. The worry for the BJP which has set a target of winning 45 out of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, Kishor might just give the Sena tips that could well spoil its chances. Because your friendly foe knows a few chinks in your armor that can lead to your downfall. Secondly, poll strategies need constant review and cannot rely on set principles or guidelines. For the Sena being a part of the government, then criticizing it as it was the opposition itself in a dilemma that even Kishor might not find answers for.

For Prashant Kishor, he will first need to understand the way the Shiv Sena is structured and the way it functions. Kishor now as a vice president of Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar led Janata Dal (United) is back in the BJP led NDA fold. The battle as far as Maharashtra is concerned is between two NDA allies fighting against the dominant NDA founder. Like the Sena may find it hard to make a sudden course correction after being critical of its own ally, it will have to find answers as to why does it need the help of an NDA ally to win the election jackpot. After the pre-election launch of 'Thackeray' Biopic hoping to encash on nostalgia and sympathy, the need for outside support of Prashant Kishor sums it up for the dilemma that faces the Shiv Sena today.

Functioning of dynasty based political parties is quite different from political parties that are cadre based. By and large every other political party now has a fair understanding and knowledge of how pollsters work. It would be interesting to see whether Kishor and Sena spoil the party for the BJP or not. The BJP and the Congress too might now have a fair bit of idea of how Kishor works and how they can handle a Sena that is more than keen on piggy back ride on outside help rather than relying on its own time tested party machinery.

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