'No evidence yet of effect of opinion polls on voters'

In the backdrop of the debate over banning opinion polls, renowned psephologist Sir David Butler has said that banning pre-poll surveys would be ineffective because there is no "solid evidence" so far about their influence on voters.

"In western democracies, banning (opinion) polls... is offensive in terms of civil liberties and... probably ineffective because people would have secret polls or say they have done secret polls that are not public ones and open to scrutiny," Sir Butler told Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express, during an interview for Walk the Talk programme on NDTV 24X7.

In this context, Butler underlined that there are always two possibilities — bandwagon effect or underdog effect — but pointed out that there was no evidence to conclusively establish these effects.

"I have never seen any evidence. We never know whether it is an underdog effect or a bandwagon effect. Both the thesis are possible, but nobody has produced solid evidence. I have seen lots of articles about it, but just do not believe this," he said, responding to a query on the impact of opinion polls on subsequent voting behavior of the electorate.

"They can, in some electoral systems, serve a purpose. Say, this party has no hope, so do not waste your vote there. It will simplify elections. So, I do not say they have no influence. But I really do not think there is any solid evidence that it is (going to have) a bandwagon — let's go with the winner — or an underdog — winner is winning too big — (effect)," he said.

On politicians attacking opinion polls, he said, "I do not like it being done... In a free society, people can say what they like. The test (of opinion polls) must be, to some extent, in openness and how well the polls actually do. If the polls come out badly, it will teach people to be sceptical in future. If they come out to be true, well, they will be more respected," he said.

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