How are exit polls and opinion polls different?

Sushim Mukul
Sushim MukulNov 30, 2023 | 16:28

How are exit polls and opinion polls different?

One is a pre-poll exercise, while the other is a post-poll exercise. Photo: ECI/dailyO

With the conclusion of state assembly elections in five states, exit polls will soon flood news channels and websites. Understanding the distinction between exit polls and opinion polls becomes crucial as we navigate through these projections.

The counting of votes and the results of the recently concluded polls in Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Telangana will be declared on Sunday, December 3.


Another similar but closely related term that might have come to our attention previously in the context of elections is the opinion polls. Though both terms appear similar, they differ significantly in their meaning, implications, and methodologies.

So before delving into any exit polls this evening, let's take a moment to understand their distinctions.

Exit polls

  • As the name suggests, the public sentiment gauging exercise carried out by various media houses, with their associated agencies, includes the data collected after a voter exits from her/his polling station.
  • The data collected immediately after casting their ballots evaluates the support for political parties and their candidates in a constituency.

A constituency is a unit, demarcated by poll bodies/offices like the Election Commission of India or State Election Commissioners for representation of their elected representatives. The term could be synonymous with 'seat', in the political sense.

  • Despite their fast and instant nature, these polls are not immune to controversies.
  • The choice, wording, and timing of questions, along with the nature of the sample, can influence the projections, raising questions about their accuracy and neutrality.
  • Another thing about it that can't be verified is that people might not disclose correct poll details or might lie.

Opinion polls

  • An Opinion Poll, conducted before the elections, aims to capture voters' perspectives on various election-related issues.
  • This post-poll exercise includes the people who have not voted yet and might not vote.
  • They act as a prelude to the electoral journey, seeking to unearth the details of public opinion and the importance voters place on issues before getting inked.
  • However, controversies often surround here too. These are mainly due to concerns about the impartiality of the agencies conducting them.

The Election Commission (EC) encounters challenges in regulating these polls due to the lack of statutory support. In 2004, the EC attempted to amend the Representation of the People Act to prohibit both exit and opinion polls during specific periods, but this initiative was thwarted. As a result, some Chief Election Commissioners have expressed apprehension regarding these polls, but they persist because they offer valuable insights and a diverse dataset for analysis.

Last updated: November 30, 2023 | 16:34
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