Uttar Pradesh will remain the psephologist’s ultimate challenge forever. Why? The answer is rather cliched: the voter mood in the state is too complex. His choice is a product of too many influences around him, which makes him unpredictable. Moreover, he is more unlikely to open up than voters in other places because it entails too much risk. That makes catching a trend in the state so difficult.So when you get glued to your television sets watching exit polls, take the numbers being dished out with a pinch of disbelief. For clarity let’s have a look at the surveys — pre-poll, post-poll and exit poll — of 2007.
The Indian Express-CNNIBN-CSDS pre-poll survey placed the SP’s tally in the 145-155 band; the BSP’s between 140 and 150 and the BJP’s between 50 and 60. The numbers changed in the post-poll survey with the SP’s numbers getting pruned drastically to 100-110 and the BJP’s tally in the 90-100 bracket. The BSP held steady with a small revision, between 145 and 155.The Times Now-Hansa exit poll put the SP’s tally between 100-110; the BSP’s between 116 and 126; and the BJP’s between 114-124. The NDTV-IMRB exit poll placed the SP between 113 and 123, the BSP between 117 and 127 and the BJP between 108 and 118. Star News-Nielson exit poll put the SP’s tally at 96, the BSP’s at 137 and the BJP’s at 108. The Congress came uniformly at the bottom of the heap in all surveys.The final results were a surprise for all. The BSP virtually swept the polls with 206 seats. The SP bagged 97 seats and the BJP 51. The Congress scored the lowest with 22 seats. All the surveys fell short of the mark. In fact, none caught the trend right. It is curious that all surveys missed the wave in favour of the BSP or the anti-incumbency mood against the SP. There were wide variations in the number of seats the exit polls projected for the BJP.How could all of them go so wrong? Blame it on the mysterious UP voter. Admitted, psephology still has some way to go to shape up as a perfect science but all the exit polls could not have been so inaccurate had the subjects surveyed been clear. It is not possible that there was a dramatic change in the voter mood immediately before the election which the surveys failed to catch. And there is little to justify the allegation in certain quarters that such polls are opinions, not opinion polls.Here’s the trend in UP this election that meets the eye. There’s an anti-incumbency mood against Mayawati’s BSP. The beneficiary of it would be the SP. The Congress has earned goodwill but it might or might not translate into seats. The BJP will be in competition with the Congress for the third slot. But how does it translate into seats for individual parties? That is where the challenge for the psephologists lie.Some UP poll watchers are of the view that a big shift happens in the final phases of the elections. People get a sense of the winner and there’s a bandwagon effect. The accuracy of the pre-poll surveys depend on the point of time they are conducted. There will be pronounced difference in the projections between surveys conducted immediately after the announcement of the polls and those conducted after the polls. Also, a lot of strategic voting takes place in the state, they say. It is not likely that voters would make their voting preference be known to outsiders.In the case of the BSP in 2007, the swing in favour of the party had more to do with the anger against the SP’s goondaism than her rainbow coalition, which many analysts credit the party’s success entirely to. This time the coalition looks shattered and there’s some anger against Mayawati. But would the surveys be able to catch the drift away from the BSP and convert it into numbers?It will be interesting to watch the exit polls results. Hope they crack the UP mystery this time.