We have relaunched!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Every election cycle has its winners and losers: not just the among the candidates, but also the pollsters.”

Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight

The 2015 UK General Election, the EU Referendum (Brexit) and, most recently, the US Presidential Election all produced results which most major pollsters and media outlets failed to predict. In India we have had a plethora of similar experiences; the ones immediately coming to mind are the 2004 Lok Sabha Polls; Delhi & Bihar Assembly Polls of 2015.

      - As a result, most polls are today increasingly being derided mostly as being extremely partisan and based on inaccurate interpretations and simplistic analysis
      - Vote projection models and survey data often get lumped in with opinion polls but they represent very different methodological approaches and aims

Political numbers have been weaponised and so opinion polls are more often used as ammunition in partisan debates that generate more heat than light.

Polls nevertheless have become indispensable to finding out what people think and how they behave.  They now pervade commercial and political life. Poll results are constantly reported by national and local media to a largely sceptical public.  Seemingly everyone has been contacted by a pollster or someone posing as one.  There is no escape from the flood of information and disinformation flowing from polls.  The internet has enhanced both the use and misuse of such polls.  Readers so bombarded are therefore often unable to reliably tell a good poll from a bad one.  

Polling data is best used as a measure of current public opinion. The majority of polls cover the election as a “horserace”. It reports and informs the public which candidate or party is winning today. But it rarely reveals the factors, motivations, and reasons why particular groups of people support which candidate.  Perhaps the only ready exception that comes to mind being CSDS surveys. 

Yet polling data is still largely informative and exciting to follow, but we should be careful about conclusions we make about present attitudes (from a single poll), about conclusions based on just reading the headline (which could imprecisely describe if not totally misrepresent polling results), or conclusions about the outcome of the election (as polling data alone is not sufficient to predict the future). Most significantly, horserace polling data also cannot provide insights into how or why groups of people are more likely to support the major party or candidates. 

This blog Exit & Opinion Polls India launched a few years back was an opportunity to do something about these problems, triggered by the impulse to be different and ask different questions. For me, the question was this: ‘Was it necessary to critique the way in which opinion polls are carried out, reported and used in political debate in order to ensure that they continue to be relevant and we avoid the danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater?’ 

The answer was a big resounding yes. This question set me off on a journey that led me to discover the fathomless potential and depthless reach of the blogosphere. It led to an appreciation of how blogs could play a vital role in opening up debate and holding the media and pollsters accountable as well as enable increased interactivity as afforded by internet.  

The response which I received from my unpaid blogging efforts was simply phenomenal, one that truly astounded me. My posts in a very short time was within the top five searched by Google; this without any SEO tweaking or any paid boosting of reach. 

Then for some reason, I thought I could take a break sometime after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and I found myself slipping into the vortex pull of a 2 ½ year unintentional hiatus. Unintentional because blogging became one of those things that drifted away as I let other things took over as priorities of life. The result: nothing exceptionally good.  

 Someone once said that the suppression of the creative energy inside us was a dangerous thing. Dangerous?? Really?? That’s a strong word, isn’t it? But then I thought about my life happiness vis-à-vis blogging (blogging = proxy for reading and writing), it couldn’t be truer. Something felt badly amiss. I needed a purpose, something to expand my world, something my flirtation with FaceBook or Twitter could not accomplish. When I finally decided to read and write again, all of these suppressed energy found their outlet.

So it led to this decision of reactivation of the blog using the forthcoming five state assembly polls as a launch pad. The relaunch coming after a 2 ½ year hiatus is a soft launch, because one, the domain name had existed for years un-utilized and two, with a reasonably wide blog following whose content demands remained unfilled. The hiatus also helped introspection - of providing me a good idea of what went right, what could have been done better and above all, what not to do. 

Blogging, or intentional creative efforts of any kind, at one level, is basically a craft. It’s a design exercise - not just graphically, but internally, a design of content. It takes effort and prodding and questionings. What do I want my creation to look like? How do I iterate to find out what I want? If the question doesn’t get asked, a journey doesn’t get discovered. And if things don’t get measured, they don’t get improved.

One of the common feedbacks from readers was that while the blog content was largely appreciated, it was poorly designed in its functionality, colour schemes and reader friendliness. The truth was that at the time when the blog was conceived, it was pursued merely as a past time unpaid hobby that enabled an expression to my passion for writing so much so these matters of professional designing of the blog was completely side tracked.  The blog have now been redesigned and re-customised with the generous help of my college going son. The result is this - what you are now seeing right now - a more professional but simple template based blog. An unfortunate fallout of redesigning the template was however the loss of all my previous content. 

Finally, after launch we’ll be eager to hear from you, our readers, about what you think of the new site design and content as usual. Thank you all for your continued support and readership as the journey leads to exciting new frontiers in blogging.

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