Opinion polls or poll opinions?

BY ramanujan| IN Media Practice | 01/05/2006
The Hindu survey seems to be more scientific and methodical while the others only reflect the editorial policy of the publication concerned.
 

 

 

 

S R Ramanujan

 

 

Opinion polls are always jinxed in Tamil Nadu. At least in some states in the past the pollsters had been nearer to the reality. But the conservative southern state had never allowed them any credit for coming out with something closer to the ground situation and the final verdict of the electorate. It happened in 1991, 1996 and 2001 assembly elections and in the 2004 Parliamentary elections. The opinion polls had written off Jayalalithaa in 2001, but she made a remarkable comeback restricting her arch rival DMK to a mere 30-odd seats out of 234. The reverse was the case in 2004 Lok Sabha polls. While the prediction was that the Assembly verdict might repeat, Jaya faced a humiliating defeat losing all the 39 seats along with her alliance partner - the BJP.

 

Whenever there is a wave like situation it becomes easier for the psephologists to be near accurate. But when there is a no-holds-barred fight, as is presently happening in the land of Dravidian parties, it is a tricky job for the pundits. No wonder, the Hindu-CNN-IBN poll played it safe by calling it "too close to call". The explanation given for such a finding was that the difference in vote share between the AIADMK and DMK alliances was just two percent (AIADMK+ 46% and DMK+ 44%) and that this gap was within the sampling error.

 

But the same survey recorded a remarkable upward swing in the Jaya’s popularity. There was an increase of 13% in her rating. The rating in 2004 was 29% and it rose to 42% in 2006, whereas Karunanidhi’s rating fell from 46% in 2004 to 39% in 2006. Even in areas of governance like running the government, concern for poor, development of Tamil Nadu and controlling corruption, Jaya’s rating, as per the Hindu-CNN-IBN poll, is much higher than her sworn political enemy. The Jaya-Karuna enmity is not just confined to politics and it is more personal. Karunanidhi has not entered the Assembly premises after 2001 polls even once because he can’t bear to see Jaya occupying the chief ministerial gaddi. Jaya did the same thing when Karunanidhi was in power.

 

On other fronts like age factor (Karuna is 82), and promoting family members in politics, the DMK chief is shown in poor light in the survey. 65% of the respondents felt that MK is promoting family members in politics, obviously referring to his son M K Stalin and grand nephew Dayanidhi Maran. Maran is a green-horn in politics and prior to 2004 Lok Sabha polls, he was merely looking after the Sumangali Cable Vision (SCV) which has near-complete monopoly over ground distribution of television channels in the state, much to the chagrin of other channels which have suffered at the hands of SCV. With his 39 member strength in the Lok Sabha, MK saw to it that his grand nephew and political novice Dayanidhi was given a lucrative portfolio. In fact, he delayed his letter of support to the UPA by a few days to get the portfolios of his choice. Even while contesting the 2001 polls, he declared that it would be his last election. Interestingly, he doesn’t seek support for him or his alliance this time citing his age as he knows that it would be a negative factor. And well, this is reflected in the survey findings.

 

The May 8 election is an issueless one and it is the charisma of individual leaders (Jaya and Karunanidhi in this case) and their ability to hoodwink the electorate will decide the final outcome. Jaya is way ahead both in popularity and performance ratings whereas Karuna suffers from adverse opinion on factors like age and nepotism. Further, those who are satisfied with the state government constitute 67% according to the survey. When Tamil voters are going to decide their ruler based on the overall image of the leader in the absence of any emotive issue or strong political ideology, how come the Hindu-CNN-IBN poll was trying to make the final analysis as vague as possible? Of course, the survey was done at least a month before the polling date and much before the storm of  "freebies" promises by different parties lashed the state. Much water has flown down the Cauvery in the last two weeks (despite the Cauvery Water Tribunal!) and that makes the job of pollsters a tough one.

 

Subsequent to the Hindu-CNN-IBN poll, many newspapers and magazines have come with their own surveys. But the Hindu survey seems to be more scientific and methodical while others only reflect the editorial policy of the publication concerned. There are non-media institutions as well who have plunged into the field, obviously as an academic exercise. The Visual Communications Department of the School of Media Studies of the Loyola College did a survey with 5000-odd respondents to conclude that the DMK had a "slight edge" over the AIADMK with a gap of 4.4 percent between the two. This was promptly rubbished by the pro-Jaya press by recalling the College’s earlier two surveys in 2001 and 2004, both of which were proved wrong. Another attribution was also made that this prestigious Chennai-based institution run by Missionaries has turned against Jaya because of the Anti-conversion Act and that it reflected in the survey. The controversial Act was withdrawn by Jaya after 2004 rout.

 

There was yet another survey by Goodwill Communications headed by Fr Jegath Gaspar Raj covering 15,600 samples. According to his survey, the DMK is well ahead of its rival by nearly 6% that is good enough for a clean sweep. This is in sharp contrast to another educational institution’s opinion poll. It records a popularity rating of 42% for Jaya and 36% for Karuna that compares with the Hindu-CNN-IBN poll. But in terms of voting preferences of the respondents there is wide gap. AIADMK scores 41%, with the DMK trailing far behind. Referring to these trends, MK, known for his wit, said "Opinion polls have become poll opinions".

 

Among the weekly Tamil magazines, Kumudam, a sober and popular weekly, has been publishing poll surveys of 50 constituencies every week and so far it has published the opinion poll results of 186 constituencies. According to Kumudam`s forecast, AIADMK is slated to win 112, and DMK 70 with a keen contest in 4 constituencies. Naturally, this was not to the liking of MK and prompt came his response that Jaya had allegedly bribed the magazine. Tamil politicians are known for quick repartees. Referring to the same magazine’s forecast in 2004 Lok Sabha polls predicting DMK win, the question asked was "Did MK bribe the magazine two years ago for a "favourable" poll?"

 

  Ananda Vikatan, the oldest Tamil weekly claimed to be the number one among the weeklies, is doing just an on-line survey, and it gives a victory margin of 4% to the DMK alliance with 48% for DMK+ and 44% for AIADMK+. Among the non-Sun group publications, it is Ananda Vikatan that has slight tilt towards DMK though the Sun’s Kumkumam (Tamil weekly) gave a stiff fight for supremacy. It is not without reason according to sources in other Tamil publications. Vikatan`s television production house has two serials running on SUN-TV. After film actor and TV Producer Radhika’s tiff with the SUN group, "Vikatan" does not want to take a chance.

 

"Tuglak" yet another political Tamil weekly, edited by "Cho" S Ramaswamy, a known Jaya-sympathiser and advisor of sorts, is also publishing weekly forecasts of each constituency like "Kumudam". So far, it has published 90 constituencies giving 54 for Jaya, 22 for Karuna, and one for DMDK with 13 constituencies facing tough fight.

 

The Deccan Chronicle, a late entrant to the media world of Tamil Nadu, has also come out with an opinion poll just a week before the D-date. The AC Nielsen Survey highlights two main features. One is that Jaya has a razor thin edge over her rival Karunanidhi and two, there is no anti-incumbency factor to work against Jaya. Even on the tsunami and flood relief and rehabilitation front, Jaya’s performance is acceptable to the people. This only corroborates the Hindu-CNN-IBN survey. Another interesting point that the DC poll highlighted was that "90% of those who voted for the AIADMK in 2001 still want to vote in favour of Ms Jayalalithaa’s party and 4% are likely to switch towards the DMK". But, among the DMK voters 8% would like to switch loyalties to the AIADMK. This leaves Jaya with 4% advantage.

 

Two weeks after the publication of its first "Too close to call" opinion poll, the Hindu has come out with another statistical jugglery authored by pollsters Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Kumar. They have slightly reversed their "Arithmetic vs Chemistry" theory. The thrust of their exercise is this: "The assumption that the major alliance partners have a fixed proportion of votes they can carry to any alliance was true between 1998 and 2001. It is not true anymore" This only implies that arithmetic can no longer be counted by the DMK alliance to be in its favour. Even the chemistry seems to be changing and "it is not what it was in 2004". Jaya’s performance, according to the latest interpretation of the Hindu survey, has brought in this change in chemistry in 2006. So, "Nothing is ruled out in Tamil Nadu" to quote the Hindu headline.

 

An interesting phenomenon in all these conflicting opinion polls and surveys is that none of them will be influencing the final decision of the average voter. They won’t confuse them either.  After all, out of 4.62 crore electorate, four crore voters may not even know what these opinion polls are all about!!

 

 

 

Contact: s_ramanujan9@yahoo.co.in

 

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