Exit polls on the other hand seek to indicate a likely outcome based on feedback and sampling during the actual voting process. They aim to be more accurate.
Yet, beyond predictive psephology, perhaps the most important aspect that cannot be undermined is that both opinion polls and exit polls visibly indicate the measure of popularity enjoyed by political leaders and parties.
Opinion polls and exit polls have had their fair share of success and controversies over the last two decades. Post 2004, many exit polls were inclined to conservatively predict outcomes. Some began the practice of suggesting the outcome as a range of seats between an upper and lower figure.
In the current round of state elections, both in Maharashtra and Haryana, exit polls are indicating a clear groundswell of support in favour of the BJP and against the ruling Congress Party and its allies. The ABP-Neilson survey in fact predicts a record breaking full majority for the BJP in Haryana and barely short of clear majority in Maharashtra.
In both states, the Congress enjoyed long tenures - 10 years in Haryana and 15 years with the NCP in Maharashtra. Interestingly, this time the Congress avoided contesting the elections on the basis of their performance and achievements alone. Instead they focused considerable energy and time criticizing the BJP’s campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
This in fact only confirmed that the performance of the Congress in both states was a non-starter for them and could not be expected to enthuse voters in both states. And for the BJP, in addition to the attack on the Congress party's non-performance, the single most important factor driving its surge towards a positive electoral outcome was the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Every psephological prediction consistently confirms that he is by far the most popular leader in the country and a star campaigner for the BJP. At each one of the rallies that he addressed both in Haryana and Maharashtra, the crowds were enthused.
Beyond personal charisma and popularity, the central government under PM Modi's leadership is being acknowledged as a performing entity. This is despite its limited tenure of less than 150 days in office. The government is in action mode and the days of policy paralysis are over. Decisions are being taken simultaneously on several fronts from reviving economic activity to more fundamental issues. Price rise has been contained and the inflation rate is at its lowest in five years. The successful implementation of programmes such as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana confirms that the government follows up announcement with Implementation. No wonder so far about 5.5 crore new bank accounts have been opened in less than two months and almost 60% of them in rural areas.
When tomorrow the results will be finally known, psephologists may well spend considerable time discussing Prime Minister Modi’s popularity and the accuracy of their predictions.
(Nalin S Kohli is spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party)