Today our guest contributor is otherwise engaged, so I am taking this slot to discuss polls. I don’t know about all of you but I am so tired of hearing the word “poll” preface a vast majority of discussions by the right and the left on what is going on in politics today.
What is really disturbing to me is that far too many Americans give credence to these polls and by virtue of that they can be discouraged in the blink of an eye. We have a difficult task getting people to the polls as it is without adding any reasons for them to claim that their “vote doesn’t matter anyway – so why bother”.
Here’s one that came into my inbox just this morning:
Just 34% of Americans correctly say U.S. President Barack Obama is a Christian, while 44% say they don’t know Obama’s religion and 11% say he is a Muslim. Read more at GALLUP.com.
Hmmm….any guesses on what demographic would actually be misinformed and bias enough to claim ignorance as to what President Obama’s religion is? Honestly! This is evidence supporting what the following articles are pointing out on the subject of how results shift dramatically when polls are taken from homes with land-lines versus polls of both land-line and cell phone users.
What should be abundantly obvious in today’s world of technology and smart phones is being overlooked when we take into consideration who is more likely to still even have a land-line. It is increasingly more common to have a cell phone only. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com says…
“This is not a new problem — in fact, it’s one we’ve written about on several occasions. But it’s continuing to get worse. The percentage of people who have replaced their landlines with cellphones has climbed at a remarkably steady rate. (There may have been an especially large leap from the second half of 2008 to the first half of 2009, when the recession was at its worst and many people were looking for ways to trim household costs.)
Bear in mind that these figures are already somewhat out of date. The fraction could be in the high 20s by the time we get to November. And if the current trends hold, it could be in the mid or high 30s by the time we get to 2012. Nor does the figure include so-called “cellphone-mostly” households, which is when the house has a landline, but rarely or never uses it to receive incoming calls; another 15 percent of the population falls into this category.”
Another article at Fast Company.com adds to this conversation…
“The rise in cellphone-only households isn’t a new thing, but it’s also increasing in percentage. Half of Americans between the ages of 25 and 30 are cellphone-only, and two-thirds are cellphone-mostly (meaning they may have a landline for more expensive uses like long distance calling, but may not ever answer incoming calls). Even worse, sub-30-year-old Americans are more accustomed to screening calls than any other generation, making it tougher for an unknown pollster to get through. (Interestingly, the percent of landline-using households are slightly higher for those aged 18-24–probably since much of that demographic is either living in a college dorm or at home.)
Polling cellphones is expensive, often prohibitively so, for pollsters. The cost is around twice as high as it is to call landlines, so while many of the bigger organizations (Gallup, Pew, CBS/NYT, Quinnipiac) do call cellphones, the smaller pollsters often have to merely weight more heavily the demographics they assume cellphone users correspond to. And that’s a problem.”
I admit, I am a screener and if they were to call my home chances are highly likely that it would go unanswered. But I am at the other side of this pendulum where I long for the days before answering machines. back when if someone called and you didn’t answer that meant you just weren’t home or were unavailable.
These days with devices becoming virtually another appendage for a growing number of humans there is an expectation of immediate contact. I have been on the receiving end of messages from my father whose frustration grew in his message on my answering machine, then my cell phone and by email when he called and I did not answer. I really wasn’t simply ignoring him – I just wasn’t near a phone.
If that seems like I am digressing from the topic, I am not. My father squirms when he is visiting me and my land-line rings and I go on with what I am doing at the time…ignoring the ringing. His generation is more likely to answer all calls – the opposite of younger generations. Hence, they participate in a far greater number of polling than the majority of Americans. And, yes…he is republican. Old school R though…not this new incarnation of ReBiblican.
Sadly, even though this is an issue that pollsters have been aware of for some time, the reality is they are still more inclined to stick with calling land-lines. Why? It’s cheaper. Never mind that this is supposed to be about getting a sampling of where the population is in terms of politics and position – if it is cheaper to get the numbers for your client by calling a skewed demographic – what the hell!
When polls are taken that include cell phone users, for example, the statistics favor democrats and progressive issues more than when the polls are drawn from land-line respondents. Pew Research did a very informative article on this. Here is a snippet:
“Differences between the landline only and the combined sample include:
- Weighted estimates from the landline sample tend to slightly underestimate support for Democratic candidates when compared with estimates from dual frame landline and cell samples in polling for the midterm congressional elections this year. The same result was seen in Pew Research Center polls throughout the 2008 presidential election. In the landline sample, Republican candidates have a 47%-to-41% margin over Democratic candidates on the 2010 generic horserace, but in the combined sample voters are evenly divided in their candidate preferences for this November (44% for each party).
- By a 47%-to-42% margin more approve than disapprove of Obama’s job performance in the combined sample. In the landline sample, as many approve (45%) as disapprove (45%).”
The message I am conveying here is do not be distracted by the plethora of polls cited everyday ad nauseam. We all need to form our own opinions and take the time to understand issues on our own when determining who to support when election day comes. Looking at a 3 line poll result is the easy way out. Don’t let others make your decisions for you.