With the final phase of polling for the crucial Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections ending on March 8, the focus of the voters and the general public has shifted to the various exit polls conducted by media houses.

The News X-MRC exit poll gave the Bharatiya Janata Party a total number of 185 seats in the 403-seat House, 120 seats for the SP-Congress alliance and 90 seats to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

While state elections cannot be seen as a referendum on the central government, what has made UP elections different is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal involvement. Not only did he address dozens of elections rallies, he went out of the way to give his party an edge over the other parties, especially in the last phase of the election.

Since PM Modi himself spearheaded the BJP campaign, its victory will put a final stamp on the popularity of PM Modi and the approval of his policies — especially demonetisation — by masses. The image boost may not yield any immediate concrete benefits to him but will certainly launch the wind in his favour for the next Lok Sabha elections.

Notably, the Election Commission had extended the ban on exit polls by a day to March 9, following the death of two candidates. The adjournment came after the deaths of Chand Shekhar, the Samajwadi Party candidate from Alapur (SC) and Kanwasi, the Bahujan Samaj Party candidate in Karnaprayag.

“Conducting of exit poll and disseminating result of any exit poll now stands prohibited till 5.30 pm of March 9, 2017,” the poll panel had said.

According to election laws, exit polls can be telecast half-an-hour after the end of polling in all the phases and states.

This time, UP saw a larger turnout of women voters as compared to men during the first six phases of elections, compared to the State elections in 2012. During the first six phases of polls this year, the women voter turnout was 63.26 per cent, an increase of 2.9 per cent over the 60.36 per cent recorded during 2012. In comparison, male voter turnout in the first six phases in 2017 recorded an increase of 0.18 per cent at 59.43 per cent, against 59.25 in 2012.

If previous state and national elections are an indication, exit polls provide a more accurate picture of the people’s mood than opinion polls. However, a word of caution: we will have to wait until March 11 to get the final verdict.