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Pew: cellphone bias may be bigger than in '08

In a new analysis sure to add to the uncertainty about the upcoming election, the Pew Research Center reports that a large number of pre-election polls might be biased.

Polls that don't interview people on cellphones are producing potentially inaccurate results, according to the Pew study. The vast majority of political polls today only interview on conventional, landline telephones.

Looking at their most recently released poll, Pew shows that a 7-point Republican advantage on the generic congressional vote question would have been a wider 12-point lead had they not included cellphone interviews. Three of four other Pew polls this year would have shown similar tilts toward the GOP, leading to Pew's conclusion that "the bias [from not using cellphones] is as large, and potentially even larger, than it was in 2008."

Nationally, Pew and some others (including The Washington Post) interview on cellphones, but few state- and district-level polls do so. Almost no automated polls include cellphone samples, in part because of the legal prohibition against having computers dial cellphone numbers. Approximately 25 percent of all U.S. adults are "cell only."

While Pew's update to their long-running research on cellphones and surveys isn't a broad rebuke to pollsters who don't interview on cellphones, it raises fresh doubts about the precision of the reams of polling data fueling estimates of what may happen on Nov. 2.

By Jon Cohen  | October 13, 2010; 1:34 PM ET
 
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Comments

Wonder how skewed the data is by those of us who don't answer private numbers or won't use up our minutes doing polls?

But the gist is correct - I'm in my 50s and only know one person (in her 80s) who still has a land-line.

Posted by: SongBookz | October 13, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I think that even land-lines with caller id may skew the poll results. People could easily identify a pollster and just let the phone ring. Or answer and tell the pollster to take a hike. How does that score on the poll results?
oldswede

Posted by: biblioid-ctblogs | October 14, 2010 12:33 AM | Report abuse

As a lady in my sixties, if I see on my landline caller ID an unfamiliar number, I just let it ring. After all, what is caller ID for in the first place.

On the other hand, I only turn on my cell phone for MY emergency calls or other essential calls I make while not at home. Other then that, I keep it off.

Posted by: mydustymusic | October 14, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

I am a voter who will be 61yrs old. I have a land line with caller ID also. I have a cell for emergencies only. But I am one of a very small minority. I totally believe that the lack of cell phone calls is skewing the results of polls!! Actually I don't know anyone under the age of 50yrs that still has a land line.

Posted by: pooka47401 | October 14, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I might have been part of this study, but I'm not sure.

Last week, I received a call on my cell phone. The person introduced them-self as from The Washington Post. The first question asked was if the call was being received on a cell phone. One of the next questions asked (may have been the second, but I think the second question was my age bracket) was if I had a landline phone in the house. When I responded that I did, the person on the other end of the line told me that they were looking ONLY for cell phone only households, and thus I was not part of the 'profile' they were looking for.

Then again, maybe not this specific report, as the caller identified them-self as from the Post, and the cited study was conducted by Pew.

Posted by: critter69 | October 15, 2010 4:00 AM | Report abuse

I said this constantly during the '08 elections, and it doesn't surprise me that it's still an issue. especially when results of polls are so slanted to the GOP.

Posted by: katem1 | October 15, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

I suspect the cell phone issue will affect accuracy of polling results some. I'm not sure how much or to whose favor. Younger people tend to be poor voters in non-Presidential years anyway.
I imagine the outcome of the elections will be pretty close to current Poll results though as the voters with the most passion tend to vote better than the average voter in mid-term elections. This year there is a strong passion to 'throw the rascals out.'
The Dems have both houses of Congress and the White House. The President isn't up this year so who do you throw out???
My guess is that the Repubs will do better than the polls reflect- because of the turn-out factor.
I've spent 26 years out of a 38 year period in elective office and I'm usually accurate about such things. The last time I was surprised much was in 1994, on election night, when the Repubs took over Congress and even defeated the Dem Speaker of the House, Tom Foley.
My 45-year old Brother-in-law never misses an election and has a cell phone only. He will vote Republican. My 66-yr old best friend has already voted, absentee, and has land-line and cell phone. He voted straight Democrat.

Senator Mike Fair (ret)
Retired Oklahoma State Senator

Posted by: okie8ball-wpost | October 15, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

I suspect the cell phone issue will affect accuracy of polling results some. I'm not sure how much or to whose favor. Younger people tend to be poor voters in non-Presidential years anyway.
I imagine the outcome of the elections will be pretty close to current Poll results though as the voters with the most passion tend to vote better than the average voter in mid-term elections. This year there is a strong passion to 'throw the rascals out.'
The Dems have both houses of Congress and the White House. The President isn't up this year so who do you throw out???
My guess is that the Repubs will do better than the polls reflect- because of the turn-out factor.
I've spent 26 years out of a 38 year period in elective office and I'm usually accurate about such things. The last time I was surprised much was in 1994, on election night, when the Repubs took over Congress and even defeated the Dem Speaker of the House, Tom Foley.
My 45-year old Brother-in-law never misses an election and has a cell phone only. He will vote Republican. My 66-yr old best friend has already voted, absentee, and has land-line and cell phone. He voted straight Democrat.

Senator Mike Fair (ret)
Retired Oklahoma State Senator

Posted by: okie8ball-wpost | October 15, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

This is the Democrats best kept secret from the Republicans. The same thing happened in the 2008 elections where the polls were skewed in the Republicans favor. But the Republicans didn't know what hit them on election day. The Democrats already knew the outcome because their internal polling was conducted using modern day technology. Another thing is Republicans use polling to discourage the opposing party so the more skewed the polls are in their favor the more they like them. This November they will be left scratching their heads again when they realize they failed to capture either the house or senate. Their outdated tricks no longer work with the new, better informed and less gullible generation of voters.

Posted by: THEBRAVE1 | October 18, 2010 6:42 AM | Report abuse

WaPo pollsters have all the landline numbers that matter most to them: corporate interests, media interests and Dem/Rep party interests.

Posted by: lipschitzantwon | October 18, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

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