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Posted at: Mar 19, 2017, 12:02 AM; last updated: Mar 19, 2017, 12:02 AM (IST)TAKE MY WORD

The X factor too pulls votes, pollsters

Harvinder Khetal
The X factor too pulls votes, pollsters
BBC Dad’s cute kids steal the show once again during a press conference in Seoul recently. AFP
Nowhere was this truism more visible than in politics these recent times. Many an apple cart was upset (spoil a plan or disturb the status quo) as opinion and exit pollsters failed to get an election right. The string of embarrassing failures of projected election results is studded with such gems as the cases of Donald Trump, Brexit, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh elections. Many a candidate all set for a “sure” victory (going by “expert” perception) has had to eat the humble pie (to be forced to acknowledge one’s deficiencies or errors).

An opinion poll is an assessment of public opinion by questioning a representative sample, especially as the basis for forecasting the results of voting. An exit poll is an opinion poll of people leaving a polling station, asking how they voted. 

Incidentally, there is a poll on the opinion too. Called straw poll, it is an unofficial ballot conducted on a group as a test of opinion. It alludes to a straw held up to see in what direction the wind blows. A straw vote helps politicians know the majority opinion on an idea and help them decide what to say in order to gain votes. And, some of us politically inclined people and punters too make our own private predictions perhaps on this premise, leading to poll bets or just plain prophecies and pontifications. 

But, why are the results of exit polls so often misleading? Did any pollster think that Trump was poised to win the presidency? Or that the BJP would sweep the Uttar Pradesh elections, completely decimating its rivals? Even the most optimistic survey predicting Congress’ victory in Punjab was nowhere near the nearly two-thirds majority (it was short by just one vote) it scored. The Brexit calculation was another inaccuracy: while the vast majority of polls envisaged that the remain side would prevail, the leave side finally won by more than one million votes.

The misses can be attributed to the fact that exit polls are not conducted scientifically, making it difficult to gauge the mood. Their assessment can thus be way beyond the accepted margin of error of 3 percentage points. The pre-poll result excitement and waves of analytical opinions go on to settle under the weight of surprising outcomes. Then begin the post-poll analyses that aim to factor in the factors that played a role in the voting trends. 

The ‘Modi factor’ and anti-incumbency and caste factors figured in the Indian electoral rigmarole. The far-right tilt the world over also tilted the scales in favour of Trump. In this scenario of misses, stamping the stamp of acceptability of the opinion polls was the pollsters last week correctly assessing the Dutch electorate’s rejection of the far-right, a delightful departure from the depressing drift.

Regarding the Brexit poll, it is said the young vote and the murder of lawmaker Jo Cox turned out to be the X factor.

X factor is a variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome. It could even be that intangible, indefinable thing that a poll might miss. It makes a contestant very special. Scions of political families and celebrities from the glamour world have this factor in abundance. It is the reason for the frequent clamour for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to enter the election fray. Of course, once elected, they must deliver to remain in the running. Otherwise, they may find themselves grounded in Rahul Gandhi’s shoes. Abroad, Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau exudes this quality from every pore. We often hear judges of reality shows choosing a contender with the comment: “He’s a singer who has the X factor.”

The X factor reminds me of a BBC video that went viral this week all because of the cuteness of the four-year-old daughter of a professor expert in South Korea affairs giving his opinion on the implications of the impeachment of the country’s ousted President. If you haven’t watched the video, you must. As the professor is professing in his professional best manner to the BBC on Skype from his home in Seoul, in barges his bespectacled girl, with a hopping swagger. As Robert Kelly gently pushes Marion away, his 8-month-old son James pushes open the door with his walker and follows his sister. The “very public family blooper” completes when within seconds, the mother, Kim Jeong-ah, bursts in and hurriedly shepherds the children away. It is so cute that you want to replay the scene. It has spawned entertaining “BBC dad” parodies showing what a multi-tasking mom would do in such a situation.

The video having garnered lakhs of views and comments, the ‘BBC Dad’ as he now famously known as, addressed a press conference along with his family on the incident. Far from the disaster that Dr Kelly initially feared it was, he said: “This is now the first line in my obituary.” Not surprisingly, the kids once again stole that show – with their cuteness and loads of X factor.


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