June 3, 2008

Polling in the age of the cell phone

Professional pollsters are wrestling with the issue of how to do telephone surveys in an age where more and more people cannot be reached on traditional landlines. The National Center for Health Statistics has just released new data showing that 14.5% of all American adults live in households with only wireless phones. They have no landlines.

Furthermore, certain segments of the population are even more likely to be “cell only.” Some 30.6% of those ages 18-24 and 19.3% of Hispanics are cell only.

The Pew Internet Project has included cell-phone samples in several recent surveys and found notable variance in technology use by those we reach in our surveys who use cell phones and those we reach on landlines. Our colleagues at our polling firm, Princeton Survey Research Associates International reported on the results of the comparison of different types of sample at the recent conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

Among the most notable and interesting findings in our analysis are that, compared to those we reach on landlines, the people we contact on their cell phones are:

  • younger (more likely to be age 30 or under)
  • more likely to be minorities
  • more likely to tell us their household income.

    The internet users in the cell sample are more likely than those in landline samples to:

  • live in households earning less than $50,000
  • have no education beyond high school
  • be students
  • be white or African-American
  • be childless
  • have a broadband connection at home.

    When it comes to online activities, the cell users are more likely to be content creators and bloggers. They are also more likely to have downloaded songs and videos, watched video-sharing sites such as YouTube, and consumed news online.

    The paper was one of several presented by experts connected to our organization, the Pew Research Center, on this important methodological issue.