20 April 2019
Exit polls have been used by both the establishment and pro-democracy camps. Photo: HKEJ
Exit polls have been used by both the establishment and pro-democracy camps. Photo: HKEJ

What’s wrong with conducting exit polls on election day?

Following the Legislative Council election in September, the government is seeking a review of the so-called strategic voting mechanism that Occupy Movement convener Benny Tai put into action for the pro-democracy camp during the hotly contested political exercise.

The controversial system uses the latest exit-poll results to guide voters through a smartphone app into supporting opposition candidates who appear to be lagging behind based on real-time data.

Several pro-establishment legislators, who plan to raise the issue during a Legco meeting on Monday, allege that the system is unfair because it uses exit-poll results to canvass and allocate votes in an unfair manner during the election day itself.

It should be noted, however, that the system has been around for decades, and its biggest user has been the pro-Beijing camp which conducts election-day surveys in a bid to defeat rivals from the democratic stable.

Tai initiated the Thunder Go project for the September election to maximize the voting power of the opposition by using an interactive poll on a mobile instant messaging platform that informs voters on the popularity of various candidates.

Thunder Go was a success in garnering and directing the support of pro-democracy voters on election day.

Many of these voters did not cast their ballots until the final hours in order to lend support to opposition candidates who were lagging behind their rivals based on exit-poll results.

Several opposition candidates benefited from the project. There’s Kwong Chun-yu of the Democratic Party, who ranked at the bottom among candidates in the District Council 2 functional constituency but was able to secure more than 490,000 votes on election day as people heeded Thunder Go’s advice and voted for him.

It also helped localist Yau Wai-ching to defeat Wong Yuk-man, although she was later disqualified along with fellow Youngspiration election winner Sixtus Leung.

Several pan-democratic candidates, like Audrey Eu of the Civic Party, also blamed Thunder Go for their defeat, saying that votes meant for them were given to other bets upon the suggestion of the system.

Some political analysts cited the important role played by Thunder Go in enabling the opposition to deliver an outstanding performance in the Legco election. The pro-democracy camp won 29 seats and retained its majority position in the geographical constituencies.

Tai even suggested that democracy supporters should make it a habit to use the strategic voting system to ensure the victory of their candidates in future elections.

It could enable the democrats to achieve their goal of winning half of the seats in Legco.

The sad fact remains, however, that even if the opposition secures half of the Legco seats, they will still be hard put in blocking oppressive or unreasonable government bills because the functional constituency seats will still be dominated by pro-establishment people.

In short, the political landscape will remain the same.

So it’s surprising that mostly pro-Beijing lawmakers are urging the government to clamp down on such exit polls.

For decades, the pro-establishment camp has been employing the same mechanism through real-time analysis of exit poll results on election day.

If they are doing it for decades, why should the democratic camp now be censured for doing the same thing? 

Is there anything wrong with helping voters make their decision based on which camp they want to win?

The government has cited the case of New Zealand, which has enacted a legislation prohibiting the conduct of election surveys and the publication of any statement advising or likely to influence an elector on who to vote on election day.

In Canada, Singapore and the United Kingdom, legislation has been enacted prohibiting the publication of election survey results that could influence the choice of the electors, or predict the election results before the close of poll on election day.

Be that as it may, the pro-Beijing camp should acknowledge the fact that it was the first to employ exit-poll data to mobilize their supporters, and that the democrats just followed suit.

As both camps have used the same tactic to win more votes, it’s just fair for all interested parties to conduct such exit polls, whether through traditional interviews and surveys or the use of new technologies such as mobile apps.

The goverment cannot stop people from using all the latest communication tools to share their voting preference and try to achieve their preferred results. This applies to both the establishment and democratic camps.

If the government is really interested in holding a fair election, it should revamp the voter registration system and require all voters to submit proof of address to prevent vote rigging.

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EJ Insight writer

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