Political Polling After the End of the Phone

The Atlantic
Political Polling After the End of the Phone
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Political Polling After the End of the Phone

With over a third of U.S. households forgoing the land-line and people using their phones less and less for talking, the phone call is no longer the best way for pollsters to reach the people they need to speak with. With that changing trend, this election season polling places like Gallup worked cell-phone calls into its repertoire to get a better reflection of society, Gallup spokesperson Frank Newport told Wired's Mat Honan. And, logically, as more people replace landlines for cell phones, polling would increasingly throw cell-phones into the mix. But, it doesn't look like that's really the next frontier in polling. For one, it's expensive. A 1996 Federal regulation requires that calls to cell phones be hand-dialed, rather than computer generated, which costs more money because employing people (rather than machines) takes dollars, notes Bits Blog's Quentin Hardy. Plus, because of caller-ID, guilting cell phone users into taking a poll proves harder than haranguing an unsuspecting land-line answerer. (Of course, many land-line owners have caller-ID, too.) So, if the annoying, always disruptive at the worst time, pollster phone call is on the outs, then what does the future of political polling hold?

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Survey Monkey

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For real. The amateur-looking website conducted a series of polls throughout this election period, at times with better accuracy than the over-the-phone guys. In an explanatory post on the site, the company explains it had 96 percent accuracy with its methods. Over 60,000 people took one of the site's surveys the day before election day alone, SurveyMonkey's vice president, Philip Garland, told Hardy. 

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Though some have questioned the accuracy of the online poll because of its newness to the field. Nate Silver, whose words on all things polling we should now consider law, confirmed that many of the most accurate polling came from online surveys. "When people are asked questions by a person, they feel like they should make a choice," Garland added. People are more candid on the Internet, which is not at all surprising. 

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Text Messages

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Though a new survey says that text messaging is on the decline, Gallup is already experimenting with it as a polling technique in Central and South America, notes Honan. Though it doesn't sound that different than screening a phone call, text messages are a lot less invasive and they don't require an answer right away. Also, increasingly, it is how people do much of their communicating. 

Emails, Unfortunately

Though that sounds logical since so many Americans are accessible by email, it turns out it is too hard to get a good sample using email, since many people have multiple email addresses, and it's hard to account for that difference. Also, isn't it just so easy to click delete without opening? However, that hasn't stopped certain organizations from using it, as Bloomberg Businessweek's Peter Coy explains. Some firms use email lists that aren't representative of the general population, he notes. 

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