Mobile Future

From cell phones to landlines and the impact on polling data

As a former cell-only user and a political junkie, I was especially intrigued by the latest study on cell-only users’ effect on polling.  The Pew Research Center’s latest finding rebuts prior claims that cell and landline users have similar enough views that excluding cell-only users would not have a significant impact on poll results.  Instead, it found that "this assumption is increasingly questionable" particularly in regard to younger cell phone users who rely heavily on their wireless devices.

For the past five years, I was a cell phone-only user and I loved it.  After all, why would I pay for a landline when my cell phone was always at my side letting me make calls from almost anywhere?  While there were a few times a landline would have come in handy, (i.e. letting me call my cell phone so that I could find when I misplaced it, having an alternative when my cell battery was dead, and for times when my cell couldn’t seem to get reception) I was still very proud of being a cell-only girl.  That all changed when, in February, I bought a condo with my fiancé.  Due to the location of our condo and a deal from our cable company, we decided to buckle down and get a landline.  I will admit it’s been very helpful, but I still rely almost solely on my cell phone for my calling needs.  So it was with great interest that I found my transition from cell to landline corresponded with the variables that could result in skewed polling data between the groups.

Working from polls conducted in August and September, Pew found "that of people under age 30 with only cell phones, 62 percent were Democrats and 28 percent Republicans.  Among landline users the same age, that gap was narrower: 54 percent Democrats, 36 percent GOP."  The reason for that gap – young people with landlines were more likely to own homes and be married than young cell-only users, and those factors are associated with "being somewhat more conservative and more Republican", said Scott Keeter, Pew’s director of survey research. 

Little did I know when I bought a house, got engaged and ordered a landline that in doing so I would be joining a more conservative group than my cell-only peers.  However, even with the skewed data, Pew reported that the results usually were within the poll’s margin of error.  Though the implications are not readily felt, this finding could have a dramatic impact on the way future polls are conducted as cell-only households continue to grow each year.

For more insight into this topic, come to our forum, "How Mobile Technologies are Changing Elections" on October 14th.  Pollster Peter Hart will be delving into this topic with a special presentation followed by a panel of leading experts using wireless technologies.  Hope to see you there!