Lok Sabha 2014: Making sense of Exit Polls

Ayush Prasad

May 14: General Elections were held in 9 phases in the months of April and May 2014, to elect 543 members to the 16th Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s Parliament. The data released by the Election Commission of India, the nodal Constitutional Body to conduct elections in India, states that 66.84% of the 814.5 million eligible voters exercised their franchise making this the largest ever democratic election in the history of humankind. The state does not fund election campaign in India, but approximately Rs 30,000 crore or US $ 500 million will be spent in the process of these elections. A further billion dollars is estimated to have been spent by various political parties. 

The election is primarily between the ruling United Progressive Alliance led by the Indian National Congress Party and the National Democratic Alliance led by the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). The last election in 2009 was contested by over 178 national, regional and unrecognised parties. There is an unlikely challenger in the Aam Aadmi Party, who could be compared to the Tea Party Movement in the United States and has emerged from the Anti-Corruption Movement in 2011. 

About half an hour after the last ballot had been cast, television channels across India began showing various “Exit Polls” or predictions on party positions that one could expect when the final tally came out from 8 am (IST-- 530GMT) on May 16.

Exit Polls

Most news channels have solicited the services of survey and analytics agencies. These agencies have offices and surveyors spread across the country. They use standard statistical techniques to analyse data. Their results are analysed and at times modified by political analysts and then presented on live television and on front pages of newspapers. The gap between polling and results of 86 hours is filled by analysing Exit Polls in television studios. 

Exit Polls are serious business in India and there is a high premium on being accurate. One television channel (Times Now) even advertised that the sample size of its survey is 550,000 people, which would be approximately 80 times the sample size used for election surveys in the US, where the voters are just 8 times less than the number of voters in India.

The fundamental rule in surveys is that one ought to remove selection bias. In the US, surveyors use the Telephone Directory (Gallup’s 1936 onwards) as the universal set to randomize. The 2011 Census figures and subsequent projection shows that less than 60% of Indian Households have a phone and phone owners have multiple connections, telephone directories are not used. Instead, sample list is drawn from the publically declared Voters List in each constituency. At times, the polling station and the time duration for the survey are randomized, instead of the individual voters. 

Predicting the Indian Election

I have picked up the data that was published on the front page of The Economic Times on May 12, 2014 and on the predictions made by major news channels in India on the same day. The data is represented on Table – 1. 

Table 1 : Analysis of Exit Poll (1998-2004)

In Table -1, Prediction represents the data released by the Exit Pollsters while correlation shows the ratio of the prediction to the actual results. Standard Deviation is the variation in the predictions between different pollsters. 

While declaring the predictions in Exit Polls, each news channel expresses a level of confidence in their figures of /- 3%, but it could be seen that in less than 8% of the predictions have been within that range. While over 40% of the predictions (shaded in red) have varied by more than /- 20% from the actual results. No single agency can be said to have phenomenally higher degree of accuracy. 

The data also shows that since Exit Polls show a higher number of seats than actual seats for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), than the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), traditionally supported by weaker sections of the society living in rural areas. This could be because of selection bias introduced due to convenience of reaching a surveyed sample. The Exit Polls in 1999, were the only time the Congress Party was given more seats than what they had actually achieved, their worst ever electoral performance. It shows moderation of statistical results.

The standard deviation between predictions of different agencies for the NDA has varied between 10-16 seats, while for the UPA it has varied from 7-12 seats. The pollsters have been more consistent with their performance for UPA than of the NDA. But in this election, the deviation for UPA has been higher than NDA, because of base-effect – UPA has been predicted to win a third of the seats of the NDA. There is no trend with regard to standard deviation, between exit poll predictions over the years – the pollsters remain as diverse as before. 

The pollsters have been more accurate for the UPA at 13% than for the NDA at 16% deviation from actual results. 

Predicting Election 2014

Exit Polls have been successful in predicting the winner in every election, apart from in 2004. In that year, it also failed to predict the falling trend of the NDA, but it did predict the rising trend in favour of the UPA. In 2004, both the political alliances were expected to increase the number of their seats, squeezing out other non-aligned parties. 

In 2014 General Elections, the NDA is on a rising trend while UPA is on a falling trend. Hence, going by the past record of the Exit Polls, NDA could be declared the winner. The average number of seats that have been predicted in favour of the NDA is 285 seats. On an average, NDA has a positive correlation to results by 16% since 1998, therefore, it could be safe to say, that NDA would win 246 seats. Since, it is on an upswing, it could further be predicted to win 15 seats within the deviation, so my prediction is that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would secure between 246-261 seats. It will still fall short of 11 seats from majority. While the UPA is on a negative swing, so it could be said to win 104-120 seats only. 

Elections in India are dependent on several factors beyond what can be understood in statistical numbers. Electoral victory is also a function of mobilising one's supporters in larger numbers than other candidates. At times it is about identities and positive vote towards someone, while at other times it is about negative vote against someone. The beauty lies in its unpredictability and mystery. 

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Comment on this article


    Thu, May 15 2014

    As per my calculations, NDA would bag 267 seats, UPA would bag 107 seats, AAP would get 5 seats, AIADMK would get 31 seats, TMC would bag 30 seats.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [1] Reply Report Abuse

  • Stany , Dubai/UDUPI

    Thu, May 15 2014

    Instead of spending crores on exit polls why the people cant wait for results. The exit polls are nothing but to increase the TRP ratings of commercial channels.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [19] Reply Report Abuse

  • Sachidanand Shetty, Mundkur/Dubai

    Thu, May 15 2014

    We need to appreciate Ayush Prasad for his good analysis skill, but going by the exit poll trend in various news channels I would like to present my own calculation like TimesNow predicted around 240 Seats for NDA and Chanakya predicted around 340 Seats for NDA if you take the average of both as 290 would be maximum seats can goes to NDA because TimesNow always anti-BJP and Chanakya always favoured BJP. So, from the 290 /- seats, if you apply 10% margin of error means NDA will reach minimum 261 /- seats for sure

    DisAgree [6] Agree [15] Reply Report Abuse

  • Kiran, Mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    For people who don't understand how the mathematics behind this poll works, Its utter nonsense.

    I would say Good Job Ayush Prasad. You have put in a lot of work to compare and come the outcomes and come up with your predictions. Intelligent people like you are the future of this Great Nation

    DisAgree [6] Agree [13] Reply Report Abuse

  • barapatre, bilaspur cg

    Wed, May 14 2014


    DisAgree [12] Agree [6] Reply Report Abuse

  • Rathnakara A, Shirva

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Its not making sense, totally nonsense.

    DisAgree [10] Agree [20] Reply Report Abuse

  • Abdul Hamid, Bangalore/Abu Dhabi

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Congress 297, BJP 114

    DisAgree [34] Agree [36] Reply Report Abuse

  • KRPrabhu, Bangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Hamid....nanala onji iva(50) Congresseg kudsale....yenchina nasta avare undu!yelle byya mutta maatra aave!!!!

    DisAgree [11] Agree [24] Reply Report Abuse

  • ad, mangloor

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Indians are obsessed with elections without knowing what these elections do- waste of time and money and breeding corruption. Poor are misled.

    DisAgree [6] Agree [16] Reply Report Abuse

  • Jossey Saldanha, Mumbai

    Wed, May 14 2014

    I have always said BJP is not going beyond 187 SEATS...

    DisAgree [24] Agree [39] Reply Report Abuse

  • Louis Maxim , Udupi/Kuwait

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Last year I wrote in Daijiworld that" since 1977 there haven't been same govt in Karnataka & at centre.
    When Janatha party was in centre Congress was in power at Karnataka.
    When congress came to power in Centre Janatha Dal was in power in Karnataka.
    When BJP was in power at centre congress was ruling in Karnataka.
    When congress ruled in centre BJP ruled in Karnataka.
    Lastly, now BJP or 3rd front will rule in centre and congress is already ruling in Karnataka.
    Hope it's clear now? Single party cannot rule in centre and in Karnataka.
    Because Karnataka voters are clever than any Indian state, they don't one party rule in centre & state.
    My Prediction
    UPA: 150
    NDA: 250
    Others: 143
    BJP can rule with Super NDA
    3rd front can rule with congress support.

    DisAgree [9] Agree [18] Reply Report Abuse


    Wed, May 14 2014

    Is it a jinx ?or anti-incumbency factor? or Modi's wave? Or this jinx will be neutralized? 16th result will be the answer.....

    DisAgree [14] Agree [14] Reply Report Abuse

  • James, mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    After Watching and reading about this EXIT POLL i can say only 2 things!!

    It's "EXIT" for UPA government and BJP ki khulegi "POLL"

    Third Front Zindabad!!

    DisAgree [16] Agree [15] Reply Report Abuse

  • j.anata, Mangaluru / Bengaluru

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Excellent analysis made for common people to understand & comprehend Election Exit Polls by Ayush Prasad, this is indeed great job by DW!! Kudos!!

    Now coming to reality which is hardly 40 hours away, you may be watching live TV now..BJP has opened back room parleys with both BJD & AIADMK who can fish out NDA in case any eventuality occurs. AIADMK would get approx 25 seats & BJD can get upto 12-14 seats. Both were past partners of NDA, now #SuperNDA would camper faster to 272!!

    Digene & antacid are available online so is heartburn, stomach burn medicines. In case DW commentators requires, you can safely order, those wanting to join Prof U R Ananthamurthy for 'sadhbhavana stay' outside of anywhere can do so, all flights are still offering Summer discounts!!

    DisAgree [6] Agree [12] Reply Report Abuse

  • saleem, mangalore/abu dhabi

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Jeena yahan, marna yahan. Lekin, be reminded that, whatever you do in this world, its for you, your family, society or whatever. Dont forget that death is chasing you, so do good deeds, love each other and submit your entire wills to Almighty God and be prepared for his court on the day of Judgement.

    It is UPA or NDA all the same. They know only to play with the sentiments of the poor Indians. Rich is always rich/unless God change it and the vice versa. You do your best, rest the destiny will tell you. May God bless us a healthy and wealthy India.

    DisAgree [4] Agree [31] Reply Report Abuse

  • Allen, Mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Very well said Saleem! You are 100% right!!

    DisAgree [5] Agree [15] Reply Report Abuse

  • Richard, Shirva/Sharjah

    Wed, May 14 2014

    'Making sense of Exit Polls' by Ayush Prasad to please minorities at last but surprise to one day! i.e. Victory of majority party.. all psudos efforts invain! ..baki sab Modi Sarkar..Jai Hind

    DisAgree [15] Agree [7] Reply Report Abuse

  • Louis Maxim, Kuwait

    Wed, May 14 2014

    BJP will get only this many seats all over India:

    State No. of seats
    Uttar Pradesh 45
    Bihar 18
    Gujarat 21
    Madhya Pradesh 22
    Rajasthan 21
    Karnataka 10
    Haryana 6
    Chhattisgarh 9
    Jharkhand 9
    Maharashtra 18
    West Bengal 3
    Seemandhra/Telangana 5
    Assam 6
    Delhi 5
    Tamil Nadu 2
    Uttarakhand 4
    Jammu and Kashmir 2
    Kerala 0
    Orissa 3
    Punjab 2
    Himachal Pradesh 2
    Union territories 6
    Goa 2
    Total 221

    Any body has doubts?

    DisAgree [25] Agree [26] Reply Report Abuse

  • Abdul Rafiq, Uchila / Dubai

    Wed, May 14 2014

    yes, exactly.

    DisAgree [13] Agree [11] Reply Report Abuse

  • MRao, mangalore

    Thu, May 15 2014

    In case of Andhra/Telangana you r off the mark by miles.

    It will be not less than 14. In Karnataka for BJP it's either 6-7 or 16-18 no midway.

    Maharashtra will see BJP gettin above 24 and

    BJP opens account in Kerala

    DisAgree [8] Agree [9] Reply Report Abuse

  • Dr Kusuma Kumari G, Nellore/Kodyadka

    Wed, May 14 2014

    My prediction NDA 320 BJP 260 COngress 70 UPA 110 rest others

    DisAgree [30] Agree [25] Reply Report Abuse

  • Gaurav Kumar, mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    "Rahul Gandhi" started praying for the Rain on the 16th May, so that results will be decided by Duckworth Lewis method. Poor Guy.
    On 16th May our most of the regular daiji commentators, hardcore Dongi Congi supporters are going to eat a Dust, Dongi secular people.

    DisAgree [22] Agree [19] Reply Report Abuse

  • abdul samad, mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014


    DisAgree [30] Agree [19] Reply Report Abuse

  • Karan, katapadi/Dubai

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Even if BJP wins, Modi cannot become prime minister as Left will not allow communal Modi to become PM.
    It will be either Jeitley or Sushma Swaraj or even Rajnath Singh
    Congress has earned enough money from scams and they will enjoy for next 5 years. Now its BJPs turn. Mera Bharat Mahan...

    DisAgree [26] Agree [11] Reply Report Abuse


    Wed, May 14 2014

    Since 2004 to 2014 BJP /NDA never lost to CONGRESS/UPA ....IN EXIT POLLS!!!!!!!vichithravadroo SATYA!!!

    DisAgree [20] Agree [25] Reply Report Abuse

  • suresh, moodbidri

    Wed, May 14 2014

    This time exit polls may come true. because all sold out national medias are worked so hard since one year to create fake modi ale and brainless regional medias followed them blindly. now time has come that to reject all these so called medias by true Indians. we should stop watch and read these medias.

    DisAgree [4] Agree [14] Reply Report Abuse


    Wed, May 14 2014

    Infighting started ahead of results...Pathetic.
    So sad Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma, Modi snatched your place.

    DisAgree [21] Agree [15] Reply Report Abuse

  • TRaghu Pai, Bangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Henry Sir, you think BJP would have crossed 200 under Advani,Joshi,Sushma trio minus Modi? Answer is no, in fact I would have happily voted for Congress in that case. Because of one and only Modi wave, NDA poised to win. Narendra Modi rightfully deserves his place i.e. PMO.

    DisAgree [12] Agree [10] Reply Report Abuse

  • Abhishek Padival Jain, Sullia/Bangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    This year the impact of AAP and also the large number of new generation voters coming for voting in a big way, may spring a very big surprise.
    The Presence or Absence of Modi Wave will be known within just next 40 hours.

    DisAgree [9] Agree [8] Reply Report Abuse

  • TRaghu Pai, Bangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    You had said there is undercurrent favouring AAP in Varanasi. All your daydreaming will burst on may16, Narendra Modi will win Varanasi. Billion dollar question is by what margin Modi will defeat clowns Rai and Kejri?

    DisAgree [7] Agree [7] Reply Report Abuse

  • Abhishek Padival Jain, Sullia/Bangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Here the question is not of Kejriwal winning or losing or any other AAP candidate winning or losing.
    Now the main question is - how much votes AAP candidate will snatch and from which party.
    No AAP candidate will win, but they will affect the winning chances of either NDA & UPA by snatching the votes of one of these two groups.

    DisAgree [3] Agree [10] Reply Report Abuse

  • TRaghu Pai, Bangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    When media reports undercurrent favoring Modi it means he is winning Varanasi though your version is different. Anyways, AAP which boasted to win 100 seats turned out to be 'vote-cutter'. Kejri had said he will defeat Modi and not he will eat only votes and loose, his deposit gone.

    DisAgree [3] Agree [3] Report Abuse

  • Ravi B Shenava, Mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    In 2004 and 2009 the Actual results were widely different from the the exit poll predictions.

    DisAgree [4] Agree [14] Reply Report Abuse

  • Richard, Shirva/Sharjah

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Anyways..if NDA wins it is because of majorities caste! n even if gets few short for magic figure then also blame to majorities foolishness to miss the golden opportunity to out CORRUPT COMMUNAL CONGRESS...best of luck NaMo

    DisAgree [5] Agree [6] Reply Report Abuse

  • prem, moodbidri

    Wed, May 14 2014

    In 2004, prediction for NDA was 220-250, but actual was 189

    In 2009, prediction for NDA was 170-199, but actual was 159

    In 2014, prediction for NDA is 260-289, but my calculation says "its below 240"

    DisAgree [30] Agree [30] Reply Report Abuse

  • Dinesh Poojary, Kundapura/Bengaluru

    Wed, May 14 2014


    You meant to say it will be 239? Still we are happy because NCP, Mamaatha, Maya, Jaya, Karuna, BJD are in the queue to support us...

    DisAgree [24] Agree [14] Reply Report Abuse

  • Fredrick Correa, Pernal/Mumbai

    Wed, May 14 2014

    There could be just two scenarios - 1. Modi will be the PM, if he gets a clear majority. Mani Shanker Iyar will find it extremely costly to hire him to serve tea at their meetings!
    2. If BJP and its allies fall short of the majority figure, then the others who wish to support BJP may demand another candidate for the Prime Minister's post.
    Whatever be the case,even the die hard Congress supporter will agree that Congress will fare very badly in this election.
    Not only the entire nation but the entire world will be anxiously waiting for the result.

    DisAgree [11] Agree [20] Reply Report Abuse

  • Nishith, mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Mr Ayush

    I 100% agree with you that UPA has always been underestimated and NDA overestimated relating to national elections.

    But adding to that I would also like to state that always the winning party has won more seats than the prediction..let the winner be either bjp,cong,samajwadi etc..

    take the UP elections, recent Delhi,chattisghar,rajasthan and MP election plus old back national elections..

    DisAgree [7] Agree [16] Reply Report Abuse

  • jeevan, mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    16 is not far... Jai ho Namo

    DisAgree [38] Agree [34] Reply Report Abuse

  • dodanna, manglaore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Over all most of the TV channel made a profit. One group spend big amount to TV reporter for the publicity.

    If they win, then again cost of living will reach on top.

    DisAgree [11] Agree [23] Reply Report Abuse

  • Jossey Saldanha, Mumbai

    Wed, May 14 2014

    I wonder why only BJP numbers get goofed up in EXIT POLLS...

    DisAgree [33] Agree [44] Reply Report Abuse

  • Abdul Rafiq, Uchila / Dubai

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Because some Medias working for BJP now by taking huge amount of money from them.

    DisAgree [40] Agree [43] Reply Report Abuse

  • jeevan, mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    I appreciate your baseless allegation.. anyway keep it up we enjoy lot.

    DisAgree [22] Agree [39] Reply Report Abuse

  • naaz, mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    all media got benefit from the corporate sector. after NDA high prediction adani & ambani group pocketed $700 & $800 million respectively. just wait for 16th may all gained will loose badly..BJP will not cross 170 mark..

    DisAgree [7] Agree [9] Report Abuse

  • Indian, MANGALORE

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Congi earned/looted money all sent to Italy, so they don't ve for paying TV channels.

    DisAgree [8] Agree [12] Reply Report Abuse

  • KLD, Mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Good statistical information. But NDA get maximum 200-220 seats

    DisAgree [33] Agree [29] Reply Report Abuse

  • Abdul Rafiq, Uchila / Dubai

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Most of the TV channels like Times Now etc. acting as a BJP spokesperson. Arnab Goswami of Times Now is forcing some regional party leaders like BJD, TMC, NCP, AIADMK to support Modi to form the govt in his debate based on the exit polls. Is he journalist or BJP agent? If NDA get less seats what these channels are going to say to the public? all their predictions and debates will go wrong. Govt have to ban these type of exit polls and debates which is working o behalf of one party.

    DisAgree [37] Agree [52] Reply Report Abuse

  • jeevan, mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Ab ki baar Modi sarkaar.

    DisAgree [50] Agree [41] Reply Report Abuse

  • Abdul Rafiq, Uchila / Dubai

    Wed, May 14 2014

    16 ke baad Modi bekaar!
    Central mein banega 3rd front ka sarkaar!

    DisAgree [36] Agree [45] Reply Report Abuse

  • jeevan, mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne...

    DisAgree [12] Agree [9] Report Abuse

  • james, mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Maximum seats for NDA will be between 200-220, UPA between 130-160 other parties (Third Front)180-220)
    This time Third parties will decide about forming the government.

    Most probable Rajnath Singh will be India's Next PM.. Just wait n Watch..

    If Modi is PM candidate then many parties will not support BJP!!

    DisAgree [35] Agree [50] Reply Report Abuse

  • KRPrabhu, Bangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Nana onji dina maatra baaki,votu genpare...ade mutta kaapare apooja mokleg...daayeg thippi bechcha malthonnu!!!

    DisAgree [7] Agree [77] Reply Report Abuse

  • John DSouza, Mangalore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Professional and intellectuals time is being wasted in statistics and analysis
    The real show and stage is run by aggressive, humorous and comedy actors
    Rich are busy in accumulating and poor are waiting for bread to survive
    Problems are simply talking points, making some to earn and rest to suffer

    DisAgree [12] Agree [63] Reply Report Abuse

  • Latif Mapal, Jeddah

    Wed, May 14 2014

    100% with Mr. John DSouza

    DisAgree [5] Agree [32] Reply Report Abuse

  • Joseph F. Gonsalves, Bannur, Puttur / Manglaore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    Gamblers, Ambanies, Adanies and Tataas are waiting in one leg for SenSex and NiftyShitty.

    DisAgree [25] Agree [35] Reply Report Abuse

  • flavian dsouza, chik/banaglore

    Wed, May 14 2014

    2004 NDA predictions were off by 30% and same in 2009 . Now all are projecting between 240 and 300 for NDA . This will go down by 25 TO 30 % for sure as usual based on the previous exit polls
    BJP alone will not cross 175 seats ..

    DisAgree [41] Agree [58] Reply Report Abuse

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