By Peter Stevenson
THE PUBLICATION or broadcasting of election exit polls could bring with it a six month jail sentence or a €1,000 fine after the Green Party proposed a new law at the House Environment Committee yesterday.
Greens MP, George Perdikis cited the recent incorrect exit polls which followed the Presidential elections on February 17 as the reason.
He told the Cyprus Mail that although he believes they should be stopped altogether, he was willing to discuss some form of compromise.
“I think it’s a mistake to ask people immediately after they have voted who they selected but I do not have a hard line on the proposal and am willing to discuss the matter with the other MPs,” he said.
The polls had been way off the mark, predicting an outright win from the first weekend of voting with over 50 per cent of the vote, for the eventual winner, President Nicos Anastasiades. They had also underestimated the numbers for third placed Giorgos Lillikas although the exit polls were consistent in their error, yielding very similar projections for the three main contenders.
Pundits and journalists were baffled as to how the surveys could have got it so wrong.
Yiannis Mavris, an elections analyst for state broadcaster CyBC, speculated that voters did not deliberately seek to deceive pollsters. Rather, he said, “for psychological reasons” many people just coming out of the ballot booth tend to cite the candidate they think is most likely to win.
According to political analyst Christoforos Christoforou, the discrepancy between the actual results and the exit polls was probably due to a combination of false disclosure on the part of respondents and the methodology used by pollsters. For example, exit polls conducted by phone may not be able to reach some of the sampled respondents, however the no-response is still factored in.
“Court decisions in certain countries clearly state that a ban on opinion polls and exit polls is breaching freedom of expression,” he said.
Christoforou added that exit polls and opinion polls are neither a forecast or the final result so they should not be taken so seriously.
He said he believes the Green’s proposal should be dismissed and the seven-day ban on opinion polls prior to elections should also be abandoned.
A series of polls conducted during the election campaign had given Anastasiades anywhere from 42 to 48 per cent.
Perdikis claimed that the exit polls were used strategically by the political parties to mislead the voters and change the outcome. “It is a fact that political parties used the exit polls to tell their voters to vote for other candidates in an attempt to alter the result,” he said.
According to the proposal, exit polls would be banned from taking place and also from being broadcast or published by TV and radio stations. The punishment for not adhering to the law could be a six month jail sentence or a fine of €1,000, or both.
Perdikis also told the Mail he was thinking of withdrawing his 2010 proposed bill to carry out noise pollution tests at Larnaca and Paphos Airports after little encouragement from the government and other MPs. He revealed that when he had put forward the bill, Hermes Airports, which manage the two airports said they were not interested in carrying out any such tests. Since then, Perdikis said, the company has carried out noise pollution tests while MPs and the government hesitate.
The tests carried out by an internationally recognised company which specialises in noise pollution indicated that levels were below the EU designated limits.
“It would appear a private company like Hermes has more of a conscience than our members of parliament and government,” he concluded.