New Delhi: When it comes to Exit Polls, you should just not take it with a pinch of salt but a sack of salt. Yes, it gives a sense of the mood of the nation, but the small sample size to not so rigorous techniques have more often than not ended up with a facepalm for the pollsters.

Even before Narendra Modi swept to power in 2014, though many predicted a BJP edge, most failed to gauge the margin. Let's focus on the four Exit Polls that didn't go as expectedly.


In 2009, when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Congress, came to power for the second time, none of the pollsters predicted it right. While the Congress and its allies got 262 seats in 2009, only one channel NDTV gave UPA above 200. Similarly, others got a mere 79 seats while all pollsters predicted above 100. Headlines Today predicted 172 seats for ‘Others’ in 2009, NDTV 150, and Times Now 162.


2004 was when everyone predicted an NDA sweep but it was the UPA 1 with a plethora of allies including the Left front that led its support from outside. While the Congress and its allies got 222 seats in 2004, none of the pollsters predicted anywhere above 200 save one NDTV and Indian Express survey who gave the Congress-plus 205 seats that year. Similarly, the NDA got 189 seats but all surveys gave it above 200 seats in 2004. In fact, Outlook-MDRA gave 290 seats to the NDA. Others like Aaj Tak-ORG Marg gave 248, NDTV-Indian Express gave 250 and Star News- C-Voter gave 275 seats to the NDA that year while in actuality it got 189 seats.


The 1999 election exit polls appears to be stitched after sensing the mood on the ground than following a standard procedure. The BJP’s poet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the prime minister again after the poll. The NDA got 296 seats but not a single pollster gave it anything below 300. In fact, India Today-Insight predicted 336 seats for the NDA while Outlook-CMS predicted 329 for it.


The margin of error was limited in this election. The 1998 election took place amid the turmoil when the experiment with the United Front didn’t work with the Congress ditching. When the Congress left the United Front government led by IK Gujral on demand of removing DMK from the arrangement, a fresh election was called. BJP scored an interesting 252, but India Today-CSDS predicted 214, Frontline-CMS predicted 235.

Exit Polls, even in the last election of 2014, didn't fare quite well. For instance, Times Now-ORG predicted 148 seats for the Congress while it was cut to a sorry figure of 44 that even the Congress leadership couldn't believe it.