But how accurate are these polls? Do they at least indicate the direction in which the composition of Parliament will change, or are they totally unreliable? The spokespersons of nearly all political parties have belittled exit polls at one time or another. After the first round results, it was the Congress that was making light of their projections. After the second, it is the BJP and other members of the NDA. The truth, however, is that while the exit polls are not a very reliable indicator of the number of seats a party will win, they have, in the past, proved an accurate indicator of the direction of change in voters' preferences. They cannot therefore be ignored.
Unfortunately for the NDA, the direction of change in voters' preferences suggests that the less optimistic projections could turn out to be closer to the mark. Firstly they confirm the sweep against the NDA in Andhra and Tamil Nadu. In both these states, the vote for each alliance is so evenly spread across the constituencies that a change of even a few per cent in voter preferences usually leads to a landslide change in the number of seats. Andhra is, in fact, the mirror image of Madhya Pradesh in this respect. What this means is that the NDA will probably lose more seats in these two states than the exit pollsters have predicted. In Karnataka, however, the BJP-JD(U) combine could for the same reasons get more seats than it had bargained for. But Karnataka is a small state, while Andhra and Tamil Nadu are very large states. So, the Congress and DMK are likely to emerge as large net gainers.