Psephology is literally defined as the scientific study of elections. It is a sort of statistical analysis which studies the elections, the voting patterns, the electoral behavior and helps predict the results. W.F.R Hardie coined this term for the first time in the United Kingdom in 1948. This term is derived from Greece and psēphos in Greek referred to ‘pebble’, as pebbles were used in Athens as ballots.
Psephology is a branch of political science and also political sociology. It grew and became a specialist field in political sociology with the spread of regular opinion polls on voting intentions, the post-election surveys and greater access to the census of populations of smaller areas.
It is a study of statistics as mentioned above and thus requires the understanding of the demographic regions, the caste dynamics of the region, a sharp political sense. This helps them cover various aspects of elections like the trends in voting, the swings in the voting which refers to the change in the proportion of votes that have been given to a particular party. These changes can be seen in consecutive elections. They are a good way of predicting the results of the elections. As a change in support will show whether the particular party comes to power or not in the next term.
There are various tools that the psephologists use, these include, historical precinct voting data (or simply put the data from a particular area or constituency regarding there voting polls), campaign finance information; this is the finds that are raised in order to finance promotions of the political parties or candidates. Which help decipher how the political party has been able to influence the voters. The method of opinion polls is also employed, in the form of exit polls or post-poll surveys. These surveys are conducted by asking a sample of the population questions, they are therefore subjective. At the same time, they reflect the general trend or the swing in the votes. However, they are not always accurate.
E.g. In the 2004 Lok Sabha re-elections, where BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party ) led with the slogan ‘India shining’, it was predicted by the exit polls that BJP led NDA (national democratic alliance) would secure a maximum number of seats however actual results to the congress coming into power.
A similar case was seen in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when the majority was predicted to be given to the BJP led NDA, however, it was solely BJP who came to power without any of its alliances.
The study of psephology cannot be carried out the same way in every society. The methods used in the West must be different from those used in India, thus a voting model must be constructed which is based on the voting behavior suitable to the particular country or area being studied. This is due to the fact that the voting intentions in India are volatile, whereas in a country like the UK the voting intentions are relatively stable. Thus India cannot be dependent on the collection of data of all the past years of a large group in order to understand the trends and they will differ even within constituencies. Thus study here is conducted across various states and regions in smaller groups to get better results.
Psephologists are employed today by various political parties and polling firms to decide the results.