Taking UP lightly cost us badly: Axis My India's Pradeep Gupta on exit polls being wrong

Blaming an error of judgment for his exit polls going off the mark, Axis My India chief Pradeep Gupta has said taking Uttar Pradesh lightly in the last three phases of the elections cost it dearly.
Axis My India chief Pradeep Gupta
Axis My India chief Pradeep Gupta

New Delhi | Blaming an error of judgment for his exit polls going off the mark, Axis My India chief Pradeep Gupta has said taking Uttar Pradesh lightly in the last three phases of the elections cost it dearly as it shifted its top resources away from the crucial Hindi-heartland state to Odisha that it had got wrong in the earlier polls.

Axis My India's exit poll predicted 361-400 seats for the BJP-led alliance in the Lok Sabha elections, including 67 seats in Uttar Pradesh that sends 80 members to the Lower House of Parliament. But the actual results showed the BJP getting 240 seats and missing the majority mark with Uttar Pradesh proving to be the biggest upset for the party with it winning just 33 seats.

In an interaction with PTI editors at the agency's headquarters here, Gupta said it is not the Axis My India's method of predicting exit polls which went wrong but deployment of resources in crucial states.

"We have a foolproof methodology used for predicting elections ... it was not our method which went wrong. I made a mistake in deployment of my senior resources and took crucial states like Uttar Pradesh lightly. It is said that the route to power in Delhi (Centre) is through UP. This is a lesson to never ignore any state when it comes to exit polls," he said.

"Though the NDA (BJP-led National Democratic Alliance) formed government but there was a huge difference in the number of seats we predicted and the number of seats the BJP actually got. We were proved wrong. Three states where we were badly went wrong were UP, West Bengal and Maharashtra," he said.

Explaining his analysis about where he went wrong, including on deploying resources, Gupta said, "In UP, there was considerable difference in eastern UP seats. Forty-one out of 80 seats went to polls in the fifth, sixth and seventh phases. During the same time, Haryana and Delhi had elections in the same phase, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh in the seventh phase." It also happened for the first time that Odisha and Jharkhand went to polls these phases, he said.

"Generally, elections used to be finished for other states in earlier phases and the last phase used to be for West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In Delhi also the political scenario was that Arvind Kejriwal had just come out of jail before the elections. The impact of the Aam Aadmi Party was also supposed to be in these three states only," Gupta said.

"In 2019, we had predicted everything correctly. We wanted to see Odisha with extra care this time so there is no lapse which did not happen," he said.

In the last four elections, the predictions for Uttar Pradesh were bang on and "we did not depute our super duper resources in UP that too in the fifth, sixth and seventh phase and that is where I made the mistake, Gupta said.

"It was an error of judgement," he said.

The 55-year-old pollster became the centre of a controversy when the opposition alleged that he deliberately predicted a clean sweep for the BJP to manipulate the stock market, which hit a record high after the exit polls were announced and crashed on the day of counting.

"Thirty-one resources were sent as observers, trainers or coaches to different states, nobody was sent to Uttar Pradesh and this is where we made the mistake. We also sent some senior UP resources to Bengal but due to the political violence, the interview rate there was low and that made the difference," Gupta said.

"The 2024 elections are a learning for us to not take any state lightly, that too states like Uttar Pradesh," he added. For the 2024 elections, Axis My India predicted 361-401 seats for the BJP-led alliance and 131-166 seats for the opposition INDIA bloc in the 543-member Lok Sabha. "Out of 64 crore voters, we spoke to 5.82 lakh voters, which is a representational sample size. We covered 3,607 assembly constituencies, over 22,000 villages. Our on-ground interviews are monitored by a team, there is no possibility of any manipulation or bias," he said.

"All exit poll companies made similar claims this time. We are always different but this time we also predicted like them and that is where we lost the opportunity ... and that is where we went wrong," he added.

Axis My India has been conducting exit polls since 2013 after Gupta returned from the Harvard Business School and claims a track record of predicting 65 out of 69 elections correctly.

A purported survey done my Axis India had leaked when elections were midway which said BJP had zero chances of improving tally in 13 states and will lose some seats it held in previous tenure.

Gupta had junked the survey as fake. However, when the results came out they were closer to that survey, raising suspicion.

"There is no way any data can get leaked from my office ... everything is recorded, there is nothing on cloud server, only on internal servers. No mobile phones are allowed in office, no computer has internet connection ... we are so confident about data, there is no question of leakage," he added.

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