Ritwik responds to my previous post. He says that my argument rests on two incorrect assumptions. His first point happens to be the same one Chetan made in the comments – i.e. politicians have a much greater incentive to discern the popular will than pollsters, so how can I extrapolate from the pundits’ inability to call election results to the claim that politicians are similarly unable? This is a valid question. I have replied to this point when I replied to Chetan, but I will expand.
His second “assumption” leaves me puzzled. He says that most policies are made by bureaucrats in any case, so the fact that they are not guided by popular will is moot. But I was referring to a “normative” statement. I was referring to the belief that in a democracy, policies should be guided by popular will. I must say that i myself am not an absolute democrat, and no two people will agree on what powers the government should have in the first place, how many of those should be delegated to political decision-making, how many to civil servants and how many should be the province of the constitution, enforced by the judiciary. My point is that to the extent that you envision some role for democratic decision-making, the failure of popular will to get transmitted to the top is a bad thing.
Now let me come back to the first point. Yes, the opinion polls have problems with their sample sizes, statistical models, etc. But my belief is that those problems reflect real world problems that even politicians face when they make their estimates.
Yes, the sample sizes are too small. But the appropriate sample size is a function of the variance of the population. In a homogeonous population, you don’t need that large a sample. The real problem is that the voting decisions are too heterogenous, too dependent on local caste configurations and have too little to do with actual policies of the government they are voting for. In such a situation, the feedback that top level leaders get from the party workers is useless because it cannot be used to make governance decisions.