Why CNN-IBN Dropped Its Bihar Exit Poll

[This article first appeared in HuffPost India on 6 November 2015.]

The CNN-IBN news channel had aired promos for its Bihar exit poll through last week. The exit polls, like counting days, are big for all news channels so this was not out of the ordinary. On Friday night though, as polls came to a close in the crucial battlefield of Bihar and every major television channel rolled out exit poll results, CNN IBN did not air the exit poll results it had promised viewers the previous week.

According to multiple sources in the channel, it decided to drop the poll due to inadequate explanations that were forthcoming from its polling partner, an agency called Axis APM. Its results forecast very high numbers for the Nitish Kumar-led Grand Alliance, at 169-183. It said the BJP and its allies would get 58-70 and others would get 3-7.

According to a person familiar with the backroom conversations, the channel asked Axis APM to explain how they were forecasting very high seats particularly for the Congress, 26-30 of the 41 they are contesting, and demanded some other explanations too. However, they were not convinced by the answers, and also by Axis APM’s alleged refusal to share raw data.

A discussion about moderating the numbers to make them more in line with the results others were broadcasting also went nowhere as the pollster held its ground and stood by its numbers, the person said.

A spokesperson for CNN-IBN has not responded to a request for comment.

Pradeep Gupta, the Mumbai-based head of Axis APM, refused to comment, but another official of the company said the company had made its poll public on its website on the afternoon of 6th November, and also gave it to all news channels for free use. The poll was seen cited on Aaj Tak.

The Axis APM official also confirmed that the poll was meant to broadcast on CNN IBN and its Hindi counterpart, IBN 7, on the 5th, but did not do so. He said he was not aware of the reasons for this.

Axis APM had also conducted the pre-poll survey for CNN IBN, which had forecast a comfortable 137 seats for the Grand Alliance. “We had no problem broadcasting that,” a source in the channel said, “With the exit poll we had doubts over the methodology so we decided to not go ahead with it.”

CNN-IBN instead ran a poll of polls, aggregating the five exits polls broadcast by other channels. On the 6th, CNN IBN anchor Bhupendra Chaubey tweeted: “Exit polls as usual a mixed bag. If numbers confuse, always better to go by one’s own gut, right or wrong. I still believe @NitishKumar ahead”.

Responding to a query about the Axis poll, Chaubey replied, “Rumours r rumours. Exit polls are mere exit polls. Please go my by clear cut assertions on who is ahead”

Of five exit polls broadcast on 5th November, two predicted a clear majority for the Grand Alliance, but only by a few seats. Given 122 seats as the majority mark, ABP News-Nielsen predicted 130 seats for the Grand Alliance and Times Now-C Voter predicted exactly 122.

Two exit polls said their data showed the result was too close to call. India Today-Cicero forecast 111-123 seats for the Grand Alliance and 113-127 for the NDA. The India TV-C Voter exit poll forecast 112-132 seats for the Grand Alliance and 101-121 seats for the NDA.

One exit poll by Today’s Chanakya, broadcast on the News 24 channel, predicted the NDA would get 155 seats, and the Grand Alliance 83.

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