Lesson from the India Polling Disaster


I casually scroll through international news like I am sure many of you do. Something interesting caught my eyes: How India‚Äôs exit polls got the 2024 Lok Sabha election horribly wrong. I wrote a couple of school assignments in undergrad looking at the polling disasters before. The 2017 Calgary municipal election and the 2016 US presidential election come to mind. The uncaptured shift in demographic attitudes in America’s Midwest by polling companies was documented in Ohio senator J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy. Good read, by the way.

There are other examples in the UK in recent memory. Our Brexit cousins have extolled the impact of the so-called “shy Tory effect” for decades. A little more background on the phenomenon is here. Shy Tory is not a new or recent development, but the rise of the MAGA movement in America coincided with a new take on the old phenomenon. The Shy-MAGA voter is routinely pointed to as one of the contributing factors that skewed polls so wrong in 2016. Back then, it was very dangerous for your employment prospects to be caught worshipping a pariah like Donald Trump. I, for one, think the effect has lessened as Biden’s popularity continued to plummet.

Anyone who has campaigned in the ethnic battlegrounds of Calgary and Edmonton knows that the game works a little differently there. There is very little data available broken down by race, but my ground experience has said that power and family control structures in Asian and Indian voting communities very much shape the winners and losers in those contests.

Analyzing the data from elections is a rich business. A lot of money goes into these studies and some really smart people can define an entire generation off the data. I simply bring these examples up to compare and contrast with the blown exit polls in India’s general election last month. One thing that drives people to lie to pollsters is a perception that voting for the wrong person is harmful to your employment, your reputation, and your family relationships. Source.

It feels like a distant issue to us because many Mavericks are very vocal and proud of their support. There are far more people reading this article than commenting on our social media or contacting the party with feedback. Even with the outstanding support in our membership surveys… I know there are supporters out there we have not talked to yet. Judgement can be a scarily effective motivator. Fear of judgement can be equally as effective.

The “silent majority” has been coined by just about every populist politician out there. I think Pierre has mentioned it once or twice. The lessons we can learn from India are the same as we have been raised here over and over again: do not fear the pollster. Do not fear the split. If the poll says one thing but your experience on the ground tells a different story, then the pollster is usually wrong. If you trust your heart and vote accordingly, the rest will work itself out.

With Respect,
Tim Barnes

Tim studies law at the University of Saskatchewan and sits on Maverick’s Governing Board. Feature image generated using Bing AI.