Friday, October 15, 2010

For Whom the Poll Tolls

My brother pointed out this story in the Huffington Post.

Does it matter that many polls — including the vast majority that we are currently watching at the state and congressional district level — do not call Americans who use only a cell phone and thus lack landline telephone service? Yes it does. It creates a growing bias that appears to benefit Republican candidates. That’s the message of a new analysis released this afternoon by the Pew Research Center.

Since 2006, a rapidly increasing percentage of American households lacks landline phone service. The most recent government estimates find that one in four American households is reachable by cell phone only. Pollsters have been reluctant to sample and call Americans on their cell phones, partly because it costs more and partly because federal law requires hand dialing any call placed to a cell phone, which makes such calls less efficient and puts cell phone polling off limits to automated survey methodologies.

I can’t help but think that this is a straw begging to be grasped if only because the last refuge of a campaign on the ropes is to say that the polls are wrong — but they’re always right when the campaign has a lead.

I also don’t know if I buy the cultural stereotype that the people who don’t have landline phones are necessarily going to vote Democratic; I’m sure there are plenty of cell-phone-only right-wingers. Of course the whole point is that they just don’t know who they’re missing when they do a survey by calling only on the land line and that they might be diluting their samples or skewing the results by not calling cell phones.

For what it’s worth, I still have a landline as well as a cell phone. And I’ve made the leap; at least two of the landline phones have Touch-Tone.