Magazine article Politics Magazine

Why We Won't Call Cells: Mobile Phones Can Undermine a Survey in So Many Ways

Magazine article Politics Magazine

Why We Won't Call Cells: Mobile Phones Can Undermine a Survey in So Many Ways

Article excerpt

A major challenge for public opinion researchers, political pollsters included, is to figure out how their target audience is communicating with others in the course of their everyday lives, and then use those methods to interview them as part of an opinion research projects. This concept has worked well during times of transition--in the early 1970s, for instance, when the industry was moving from face-to-face interviews to telephone interviews. And about 10 years ago, Internet-based polling began popping up.

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But one technology that also exploded in popularity about the same time remains off limits in the world of Zogby polling: cell phone surveys. I get asked regularly why it is we have opted not to conduct surveys using cell phones, so let me explain why.

The question arises because of reports in the media about the increasing number of households--particularly those with younger adults--who have chosen not to install land--line phones, relying instead on their cell phones. Some have wondered whether it is still possible to get a representative sample of adults or likely voters nationwide, knowing that an increasing number of younger voters use only cell phones.

The answer to that question is "yes." We can get a representative sample using land-lines, but with response rates so low these days, it takes much longer than it used to. It is important to note that early studies involving cell-phone-only voters suggest their attitudes are not different from land-line voters in the same demographics, so missing them would not adversely affect the survey results. Further, incorporating cell phones into our samples does not really enhance the notion of "probability" sampling, since more cell users than land-line users opt out of participating in the survey.

Much like any common sales solicitation, the practice of conducting a poll by contacting a person on their cell phone used to be illegal. While those prohibitions have been swept away, many people still do not know that and are upset to receive an unexpected call from a stranger on their mobile phone.

There are ramifications to making such unexpected intrusions. Because they were not expecting the call, it is possible that they are not in a convenient place to take a call, so they may not feel free to give an honest and heartfelt answer to a pollster's questions. …

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