A few years ago, in one of my research methods classes in grad school, a professor I had asked us to raise our hand if we had a cell phone.
Everyone raised their hands.
Then he asked people to keep their hands up if they had a land line as well.
Many hands went down.
For those left, he asked how many answered it regularly or had caller ID and screened calls.
Pretty much everyone.
This of course then led in to a discussion of political polling and how many of us had ever considered who was actually answering these questions. It was an interesting discussion, as pretty much the entire class admitted they would have self excluded. The Pew Research center suggests this was not an anomaly, and that this is actually a problem that’s becoming more acute in political polling.
While many large national polling organizations have started calling cell phones as well, on the state level this is not often corrected for. This can, and has, resulted in some inaccurate polls, as the sample of people home, with a landline, willing to answer a pollsters call, does not always reflect the general population. Actually, I think there’s good reason to question the representativeness of a sample willing to answer their phone for an unknown number, but that could be disputed (those interested enough to pick up the phone also might be more likely to actually go vote).
Anyway, none of this is new. What is new this (presidential) election cycle is that news organizations are now starting to put up stats on Twitter and Facebook status updates. I decided to take a look and see exactly how skewed these stats are, and found that Twitter is most popular in the 18-29 demographic. Of course, this is the least likely demographic to actually vote. Interestingly, the poll on Twitter usage did not include people under 18, but these are not excluded when they are compiling trends.
So two different ways of tracking elections, two different sets of flaws. Pick your poison.