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Who can conduct exit polls at Belarus elections?
The presidential elections will be held on August 9 / Euroradio
Exit polls at the elections in Belarus can be conducted by the organizations accredited with the Commission on Public Opinion Polls at the National Academy of Sciences. No request or invitation from the Central Election Commission (CEC) for this purpose is required.
Before the previous 2015 presidential election, there were six such organizations. We did not manage to find an actual list. Obviously, it has changed in five years. For example, the Information and Analytical Center under the Presidential Administration, mentioned in it, was shut down in 2019.
We have identified the organizations on the list of the accredited sociological agencies and asked them if they are going to conduct exit polls at the 2020 election.
The Institute of Sociology at the National Academy of Sciences will not conduct exit polls. The head of the organization Hennadz Korshunau is on vacation now. A spokesman for the National Academy of Sciences, who answered the question from Euroradio, did not explain why the exit polls would not take place.
In 2015, the Institute of Sociology was among the three organizations that conducted the exit polls. The other pollsters on the list were the Youth Laboratory of Sociological Research of the Union of Public Associations "Belarusian Committee of Youth Organizations" and the Institute of Comparative Social Research "Eurasian Barometer." Each of them released results that showed that over 80% of Belarusians voted for Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 2015 presidential elections.
The Eurasian Barometer seems to be closed: there has been no news about it since 2016. The Belarusian Committee of Youth Organizations told Euroradio that the Youth Laboratory of Sociological Research "is working on the organization of exit polls." This organization had the experience of polling voters during the previous elections. Now, the laboratory says, everything depends on the epidemiological situation.
Another organization accredited for sociological research -- the Centre for Social and Humanitarian Research of the BSEU -- has declined to comment for Euroradio.
The Center for Sociological Studies of the research part of the International University "MITSO" told Euroradio that they would not organize an exit poll in the presidential election, as "they did not receive such requests."
The ECOOM analytical center is the only organization, which has confirmed its intention to work during the 2020 elections. However, instead of the usual survey at the exit from the polling stations, it's going to conduct... a telephone survey.
"We are accredited to conduct an exit poll, but this year we will not do it. This will be a different study because basically an exit poll means a survey at the exit from the polling stations," explained the ECOOM. "And we will conduct a telephone survey on the voting day. The coronavirus has played its part in it. It's just that there are people who are ready to talk, and there are those who do not react adequately when they are approached."
Why do we even need exit polls?
Polls of citizens at the polling station immediately after the voting allow to evaluate the transparency of elections and to inform about the preferences of citizens in the shortest possible time. Thanks to the exit polls, preliminary results of the presidential elections of 2020 in Poland became known immediately after the polling stations were closed. They coincided with the official election results on July 13.
How have exit polls been conducted in Belarus before?
We have written above about how exit polls were held in the elections of 2015. In 2010, according to the exit polls from the pro-state analytical center ECOOM, Alyaksandr Lukashenka received 72.03% of the vote. And according to the unofficial exit polling from the organization SOCIUM, Lukashenka did not win in the first round. In 2006, none of the independent sociologists conducted exit polls.
In 2004, Lithuania-based Gallup Organization/Baltic Surveys received permission to hold an exit poll at the referendum on changing the Constitution. More than 38 thousand people were polled then, half of them during the early voting stage. The results showed that Lukashenka lacked a couple of percents to change the Constitution. After that, Western countries did not recognize the abolition of the restriction on the stay of one and the same person in the office of the president for more than two terms.
"Exit polls are actually banned."
Uladzimir Labkovich, the coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign, does not consider exit polls as an effective tool in the Belarusian electoral campaigns.
"Exit polls are actually banned in our country. Do you remember a month ago how the media were under pressure for online polls about the potential presidential candidates? The Central Election Commission regards exit polls as sociological research, which must be approved," explains the expert. "Exit polls are performed by agencies that have permits for sociological services. Those agencies are always state-funded, you know. A couple of times the voters were interviewed by members of the Belarusian state-funded youth union (BRSM).
"And can an observer at a polling station survey citizens?"
"No, an observer is not allowed to do so at all. You can survey citizens as a journalist, but it's not an exit poll. It requires sampling and methodology. I think the authorities don't need exit polls."