As Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat gear up for Assembly elections, political parties have started citing fake opinion poll “results” to show their lead over opponents. Fake images of opinion poll predictions favouring one or the other political party have swamped social media.

Recently, a fake image predicting a massive victory for the Congress in Gujarat went viral on social media, but was later revealed as fake and a photo-shopped version of a television report aired three months ago. The original image was of an opinion poll conducted by Lokniti-CSDS for the Gujarat elections and had predicted victory for the Bharaitya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat.

The fake image shows that the Congress is set to win 144-152 seats in the 182 member Gujarat Assembly, while the BJP would be reduced to just 26-32 seats. However, the image displayed in the original news bulletin reveals that it is the BJP that was predicted to win 144-152 seats in the opinion poll, with the Congress getting only 26-32 seats.

A similar image was circulated citing opinion poll results that only 11% voters like Virbhadra Singh as Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh and a whopping 89% voters think that Singh is involved in massive corruption in the state. The claim fell flat when several hoax buster portals revealed that the image was a fake one. The image was attributed to a survey carried out by Nielsen, a leading global information and measurement company which provides research insights and data. Nielsen, however, denied that it had conducted any such survey for Himachal.

Anil Singh, a pollster with Nielsen, said: “Using opinion polls as tools for election campaign is not new, but the increasing use of fake poll results in election campaign is becoming a trend. Since the advent of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in national politics, the new tactic of using survey data to show victory over opponents has become usual in the country. As a pollster, I would say nothing is wrong in using opinion polls for political campaign, but it becomes problematic when the poll results are manufactured and work as paid news to help political masters.” “Fake survey results divert the minds of voters and partially impact final election results. Therefore, it is necessary to bust such fake claims circulating on social media platforms,” Singh added.

Anmol, a research scholar with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), told The Sunday Guardian: “The opinion poll has been turned into a tool for manipulation of minds. Political parties are spending huge amounts to get manufactured poll results in their favour and the mushrooming research agencies are catering to their needs well. The larger concern is that opinion polls have started losing their credibility and the use of fake poll results is adding to the problem.”

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