With just hours to go before the voting for the seventh and final phase of the Lok Sabha elections 2019 concludes, TV channels are preparing to unleash numbers and figures on the electorate.
Days before the Election Commission of India (EC) declares the official verdict on who the next prime minister is going to be, TV panelists and anchors pontificate the various possibilities, permutations and combinations.
However, in the past elections, exit polls have turned out to be seldom accurate.
In the country's history of exit polls, 1996 is considered a landmark year because public broadcaster Doordarshan tasked the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) to conduct exit polls formally. Due to the lack of clear majority and frequent disagreements over the consensus candidates for the post prime minister, India was also going to witness successive elections till 1999.
The CSDS exit poll got its prediction for a fractured mandate correct, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the largest party in Lok Sabha then, formed the government. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government collapsed in 13 days, though.
In 1998, when the country once again went to polls, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was predicted to come back to power by all the exit polls.
India Today/CSDS, DRS, Outlook/AC Nielsen and Frontline/CMS, the top four exit polls back in the day, said the NDA would emerge triumphant, but the Vajpayee-led alliance, with 252 seats, fell just short of the magic number. The Congress won 166.
In 1999, just months after the standoff with Pakistan in Kargil, India once again voted to elect its prime minister. The Congress was still getting its house in order under the new leadership of Sonia Gandhi. The exit polls once again predicted an NDA victory, but this time a landslide of sorts, giving them over 300 seats.
The NDA won 296 seats, four seats short of the 300-mark in the house. This was also the first instance when the exit polls massively underestimated the number for non-BJP and non-Congress parties who got 113 seats.
Buoyed by the NDA's performance, Atal Bihari Vajpayee called for early elections in 2004 and was the only time when all the exit polls got their forecast horribly wrong. The Congress-led UPA, under Sonia, turned the tables on Vajpayee's government, and the "India shining" campaign collapsed.
After getting their numbers completely wrong in the previous elections, the pollsters in 2009 played a little safe, predicting a neck-and-neck fight between the UPA and NDA. Alas, they failed again.
Nielsen’s survey had given 199 and 197 seats to UPA and NDA respectively. The UPA, however, came out with flying colours with a tally of 262 seats; NDA got 159, which was 30 short of its 2004 tally.
In 2014, riding on the Modi wave and an anti-corruption plank, the NDA was predicted to win big by all the exit polls. The Congress was reduced to a paltry 44 seats. The News 24 Chanakya exit poll predicted a clean sweep for the BJP with 291 seats, nearest to the 282-tally that BJP got on its own.
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