A flawed and unwarranted move

Updated - November 16, 2021 08:03 pm IST

Published - November 05, 2013 01:23 am IST

The Election Commission might be well-intentioned in seeking to ban opinion polls in the run-up to an election, but the move does not seem to be sound in law, and is certainly not desirable in practice. The reasoning for a ban is that opinion polls influence voters prior to polling, and therefore the results of such polls should be withheld until after the end of voting. Needless to say, this is a flawed argument, and a ban, while imposing needless restrictions, will not in any way enhance the purity of elections. Whether opinion polls influence voting is debatable, but even if they do, that is no reason to ban them. Election campaigning ends only 48 hours before polling closes, and political parties and their supporters are free to indulge in propaganda to influence voters till then. If parties and candidates are allowed to try and influence voters during the campaign period, why cannot the media or others publish poll findings that may or may not influence voter behaviour? Even if some of the surveys are not scientific, and some others are fraudulent — just as some election manifestoes may include tall promises — a ban cannot be the solution. Opinion polls that are not transparent and are carried out unscientifically, quickly lose credibility. In any case, the voters must be allowed to judge for themselves the extent of reliability of the innumerable opinion polls and exit polls.

Actually, any ban on opinion polls runs counter to Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution that provides all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression. Of course, this freedom is subject to reasonable restrictions listed in Article 19(2): in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Any hypothetical influence on voters does not figure in this list. Any ban would therefore contravene the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution, and belittle the intelligence of voters. Already, by a 2009 amendment to the Representation of the People Act, restrictions have been placed on the publication of results of exit polls from the beginning of polling on the first day in a multi-phase election till half an hour after the close of polling in all States. The rationale behind the restrictions on exit polls is their claim to greater credibility, and therefore, their greater ability to influence voters. The distinction between opinion polls and exit polls on this basis is surely untenable, but what needs to be done is the removal of restrictions on the publication of exit poll findings, not the placing of similar restrictions on opinion polls.

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