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I’ve read numerous articles this year on the potential unreliability of polling since so many people don’t have land lines anymore. And given the demographic realities of the voters, I’ve wondered if the inability to include cell phones means Obama has a larger and statistically important advantage not being seen. Nate Silver is beginning to suggest there could be some truth in this:

In one of the forecasts, I ran the numbers based solely on polls that do include cellphones in their samples. The vast majority of these polls also use live interviewers, since federal law prohibits automated calls to cellphones under most circumstances. (Note, however, that one or two mostly automated polling firms, like SurveyUSA, use a separate sample based on live interviewers to reach cellphone-only voters; these were included in the model run.)

In this universe, Mr. Obama seems poised for victory. The model forecasts him for a 4.1 percentage points win in the national popular vote. That compares with 2.9 percentage points in the regular FiveThirtyEight forecast, which includes polls both with and without cellphones.

Mr. Obama’s advantage is also clearer in the swing states. The cellphone-inclusive polls give him an 80 percent chance to win Virginia, a 79 percent chance in Ohio, and a 68 percent chance to win Florida, all considerably higher than in the official FiveThirtyEight forecast.

Overall, this version of the model gives Mr. Obama an 83 percent chance of winning the Electoral College, a full 10 percentage points higher than the 73 percent chance that the official FiveThirtyEight forecast gave him as of Monday night. So the methodological differences are showing up in a big way this year.

He provides swing state numbers as well. If this means a 1% swing toward Obama, that’s huge. If it means a 2% swing, it is game-changing.

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  • (in low Malcolm Tucker brogue)

    Don’t ever fucking use the phrase “game-changing” again

  • Jenna

    Cellphones and the abandonment of land lines are interesting. I have clung to my land line…but I am more stable than many. I haven’t moved often. I’m over 40.
    I know a lot of people who don’t have land lines anymore. They move to follow jobs, or follow lower rent. Some people have lost nearly everything and had to build back up.
    What people who have only ever been prosperous don’t know is that the last two things you hold on to in most places are your car and your cell phone. You may be couch surfing and desperate, but, reliable transportation and a way for prospective employers to contact you are vital to getting back on your feet!
    Those people who complain about poor people having cell phones, Internet, refrigerators, or cars are complaining about poor people keeping the means to not be destitute forever!
    They reveal their ignorance of what it takes to survive if you don’t have stocks to sell, or family to support you.
    Cell phones are neccessary if you hope to dig yourself out of debt and stand on your feet again. They at no longer a luxury item any more than a refrigerator is, in a land where cold is the main method of storing fresh food now that most don’t know how to can or dry fresh produce anymore.

    • Some Guy

      I first read that as “the abandonment of land mines”.
      Boy, good luck tying THOSE two together.

      Dunno, landline or cell phone, unless you’re polling “likely voters”, and not just “anyone with a phone number” your poll is worthless.

      • Jenna’s comment is much funnier now.

        I have clung to my landmine…but I am more stable than many.

        Well, you’d pretty much have to be, to last forty years.

        I haven’t moved often.

        No, I don’t imagine you have.

        I’m over 40.

        Hang in there!

        I know a lot of people who don’t have landmines anymore.

        Why not?

        They move

        Ah. I can see how abandoning your landmine would be sensible for them. Not everyone has your stability.

    • Eric

      I’ve been pretty stable over the last ten years, and I’m under 40. I’ve only had a landline for one year in the last decade, and that was because the cable company practically forced it on me in a package deal.

      • Hob

        I got a cell phone after I moved to California 10 years ago, but I’ve always held onto a land line as well, mostly because 1. I usually get terrible cell reception when I’m indoors and 2. if the power is knocked out by an earthquake (or by PG&E stupidity), assuming everything else hasn’t fallen down, land lines will stay on when cell towers are dead. But I know I’m in a tiny minority.

    • Halloween Jack

      Most of the complaints about people who possess (or seem to possess) luxuries that the complainant finds them to be undeserving of rely on laughably outdated criteria. You’ll often hear about people pulling up to food stamp offices in Cadillacs, without looking at whether the car is new or not or what condition it’s in or even whether the recipient even owns the car or is borrowing it or hitching a ride from someone else. Similarly, you heard whining about prisoners having color TVs, long after black and white sets became difficult to find (the modern version is that they’ve got flatscreen TVs, again not really recognizing that that’s quickly becoming the default mode for televisions, not to mention that one of the reasons why convicts are given TVs is that they become easier to control that way).

  • spencer

    If it means a 2% swing, it is game-changing.

    On steroids, no less!

  • cyntax

    The guys over at Princeton Election Consortium say this isn’t an issue:

    When we design dual-frame telephone samples, we randomly draw telephone numbers from two pools: landline numbers and wireless numbers. The nation’s telephone carriers are quite meticulous about keeping these two pools separate because (1) they are required to do so by law and (2) the two kinds of phones are billed differently. FCC rules prohibit auto-dialing to wireless numbers, so carriers have to separate landline and wireless numbers. This, in turn, allows the companies that furnish telephone samples for the polling industry (e.g., SSI and Genesys) to know in advance which numbers are wireless and which are landline. Granted, number porting and call forwarding can sometimes mess with this a bit, but nevertheless, this approach gives pollsters coverage of the wireless-only population that’s every bit as good as coverage of the landline population.

    • malraux

      That just says that cell phone users are reachable if a pollster want to get their number. But because its much cheaper to robocall land lines than to hire people to actually call cell phones, some polls are ignoring cell users.

      • cyntax

        Actually the article goes on to say that the pollsters can reach and then account for cell phone only users in their models so that cell only users aren’t underrepresented.

  • KTY

    I want to know who these people are that still answer pollsters’ questions be it live, hard line or cell phone.

    • Hob

      I’d be willing to answer the damn things if it weren’t the case that every single one of the supposed “opinion polls” I’ve ever gotten turns out to be a scam where they try to sell you a vacation package or whatever.

      • rea

        Or a candidate.

        • Cody

          Pollster: “Would you vote for Mitt Romney”?

          Citizen: “Yes”

          Pollster: “Would you be interested in buying a bridge that connects Brooklyn and Manhattan? For the small small price of $5.99 a month for the rest of your life, this bridge can be yours!”

        • DrDick

          The last poll call I got (and I answer the damned things) was a push poll for the Republican gubernatorial candidate here. Really blatant about it. I finally just told them I would not vote for that deranged moron if you gave me a million dollars and put a gun to my head.

          • witless chum

            I said something similar to a pollster clearly pushing Pete Hoekstra for Senate.

            • rea

              And Hoekstra is exactly whose poll I had in mind when I made the comment above.

          • Steve H

            I said something similar to a push poll for Jim Matheson. I told them after he voted against Obamacare (and voted for its repeal), we might as well have a Republican in the seat anyway.

    • Heron

      That’s always been my reaction to these poll numbers. I’ve never missed an election even at the municipal level, but I never answer any calls from numbers I don’t recognize and so I don’t ever do phone surveys. Most folks I know take a similar approach to phones, even more so if they have a landline in their house, so I really question how phone surveys can really be representative. The population they’re actually surveying is that rather small set of people near a phone, willing to talk to telemarketers for 15 minutes, and willing to talk about politics.

    • JoyfulA

      I do, but these polls always turn out to be Republican push-polls.

    • CaptBackslap

      I got called by a robo-poll a few months ago, and I was actually prepared to answer it until the first question started, “in the race for Ingham County Drain Commissioner…”

      • witless chum

        Do other states besides Michigan have elected drain commissioners, or are we the only awesome state like I’ve always suspected?

        • brenda

          Well, in Chicago we vote for metropolitan water reclamation commissioner. Which sounds like a fancied up version of the same thing.

    • Informant

      I happily answer pollsters on my landline phone and I’m actually disappointed when I don’t get polled at least once during election season. (I don’t do polls on my cellphone because I don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t recognize since I only have 50 minutes a month of talk time.)

      • ajay

        I don’t answer calls from numbers I don’t recognize since I only have 50 minutes a month of talk time.

        Americans have to pay to receive phone calls? Huh.

        • DrDick

          Yes, but socialism is bad!

          • Jameson Quinn

            Mexicans have to pay exorbitant extras to make calls to cell phones, and still pay to receive them as well. Moreover, if you happen to be outside of your home area code, the fees to receive the call become large, and you don’t even get notified of the call if your plan is out of money. Carlos Slim is an asshole, but he’s not the real problem. The problem is the monopoly, which in this case is a direct result of former socialism.

            In Guatemala, most other things don’t work as well as in Mexico, but coverage is good and cheap. Even data can easily be found pretty cheaply, though they’re happy to overcharge idiots who don’t know any better. Capitalism rocks (and don’t mind the death squads – did I ever tell you how I once saved a man from one in 2006?)

            Monopolys suck. Almost makes you wish that the US had a voting system which didn’t enforce a political duopoly.

            • Cody

              Of course, failed socialism doesn’t have good results. But if we only had one phone carrier who was regulated so that they operated at almost no profit, I imagine everyone would have better coverage and cheaper rates.

              If the government decided to sell that Monopoly to someone…

              well then we’d be Mexico!

            • DrDick

              Capitalism inevitably produces monopoly or oligopoly through competitive exclusion (absent government intervention). For most utilities, including phone service, a government monopoly demonstrably works better (which is why Europeans have better, cheaper service). You might also try comparing apples to apples, rather than comparing the wealthiest nation in the world to third world nations.

              • Jameson Quinn

                Or, I could try to use a post on cell-phones as a hook to blather about my own experience for long enough to horn in a reference to my pet issue. Then respond to a challenge with a post that only the blog owners can tell if it’s unusually self-aware or a cheesy name spoof.

                Since I only have seven fingers after the incident with the broadswords, I don’t like apples, so I think your one doesn’t work.

                • DrDick

                  I have no idea what you are even trying to say here. My original comment was referencing the fact that government run phone services, especially cell phone service, in Europe have routinely been superior to and cheaper than that provided by our private phone companies. If you want to compare US infrastructure to that in third world countries, that seems a wholly inappropriate comparison.

                • Jameson Quinn

                  What I’m saying is that you may have missed some sarcasm.

        • Jeff F

          Cell phones are metered for outgoing and incoming calls–but most plans are free evenings and weekends, and a lot of plans have free calls between users of the same provider.

          And we get free television.

        • Eric

          Theoretically, yes. But the only time I’ve ever gone over on my monthly minutes was trying to wrangle family members around college graduation.

        • ironic irony

          If you have a prepaid cell in Germany, you have to pay to receive calls from land lines, or to call land lines. This varies with what company you want to use. Or you could go with a contract phone- you can find good contract terms if you really look for them.

          Knowing the language helps, of course.

    • Joel

      I’ve had land lines since 1977. I never respond to polls.

    • I answer all of them, mostly out of academic interest. Sometimes they are push polls, and I am interested in knowing who is doing that. Sometimes they are interesting because they suggest that a particular candidate has come into some money, or is trying out a different approach.

      • Katya

        My husband has a background in sociology and opinion polling, so if we have time, we always take the polls. Then he complains about how poorly designed they are.

    • mpowell

      At some point I figured it was a good idea to respond to polls because they probably influence politics (not much, but frankly neither does your vote) and especially if you live in a non-competitive district/state, this may be your best bet short of volunteering or donating money.

      But I only have a cell phone and I found that all the claim-to-be pollster calls that I get are robocalls which means they are probably a scam since robocalling cellphones is illegal. So I don’t do those anymore. If a live person actually calls me, perhaps I will talk to them.

  • Why do they still use so many phone surveys? Is it becuase it’s easier to do the necessary tenure weights for vote likelihood?

    What happened to weighted online panel data? Surely this should be correcting for all this stuff?

    • Matthew Stevens

      For the most part, it’s to minimize non-response bias. Traditionally you got lower non-response with telephone surveys than with mail, and infinitely lower than with online surveys. Weighting against that sort of thing is hard: you can weigh for gross demographics like sex and age, but you can’t be sure those catch the only folks that are undersampled.

  • thusbloggedanderson

    I dunno. In 2004, weren’t we anxiously telling ourselves that Kerry was going to win because the polls weren’t reaching cell numbers?

    There may be a loose correlation between “uses only a cell phone” and “doesn’t actually show up to vote.”

    • Matthew Stevens

      I’m sure it’s more than loose, since “uses only a cell phone” ~= “younger.”

      • DrDick

        That description also applies to many poor and minority voters.

        • Eric

          True. But also consider that a lot more people of all ages use cellphones than they did 8 years ago.

          • DrDick

            I would not disagree with that. My point was that it is not merely youth who exclusively use cell phones, so they likely voter meme is not accurate.

    • JRoth

      But the age of cell-only types is rising. Ten years ago it was mostly under-25s – the most mobile, least traditional, and most accustomed to cell phones. That cohort is now 10 years older, and while some of them have of course gotten landlines, everything I know anecdotally and from reading is that people aren’t automatically getting landlines as soon as they get steady jobs or whatever. I’m about to turn 40, and I have at least some peers who’ve never had a landline, or who’ve even dropped theirs.

      I do think that most homeowners get one (especially since, as someone noted above, telecoms bundle them with TV and/or internet), but I think that the “loose correlation between “uses only a cell phone” and “doesn’t actually show up to vote”” is less true than it used to be (there probably is a persistent correlation – pretty much every marker that makes one more likely to vote is also going to correlate with more likely to have a landline – but it will diminish).

      My business* has no landline – my cell phone IS my office phone.

      * sole proprietor professional

      • thusbloggedanderson

        Good points. I just don’t want to think I’m drinking happy-juice … rationalizations for dismissing unfavorable polls are inherently suspect.

        (And I’m 43 and haven’t had a cell phone for years, ever since my wife struck up that late-night acquaintance with a young woman in Australia. AT&T is still looking for me, I suspect.)

        • thusbloggedanderson

          EDIT: land line, not cell phone.

          All the cool blogs have edit functions.

          • Jameson Quinn

            Are you questioning the superiority of the LGM comment section? It’ll be pancakes for you, my pretty.

            (I mean: you may be right, but on all the more-important dimensions, LGM comments kicks ass.)

        • Cody

          Yes, I recently started my first job out of college. My college apartment, and my first professional apartment with my GF both did not have land lines. In fact, I don’t think there is even a land line jack in these apartments. I forget what they look like…

          My parents don’t even have a land line and they live out in the boonies were cell phone reception used to be spotty. As soon as they built a nearby tower, they switched to cell phones only.

          The main driving force is the societal pressure to have a cell phone in my opinion. EVERYONE has a cell phone for many reasons. Why also have a land line? I see 0 advantage.

  • Halloween Jack

    I still have a landline because I was offered a discount on my DSL service when I got that if I kept the line (I’m assuming that part of their rationale for doing so is to keep my listing in the phone book for commercial/database listing purposes); I haven’t sat down to figure out if I still have that discount or if it would make more financial sense to switch to a cable modem at home, even though I have almost as little use for cable as I do for a landline. I haven’t given out my landline number in ages, have never given the current one out to anyone who wants or needs it, and the only calls I get on it are:

    – collection calls for people that have my last name or that have no apparent connection to me (I’m guessing that they were probably the last person before me to have that number); the last one that I answered was someone calling about a loan default by my ex-wife’s daughter, and knowing the kid in question, it’s not at all surprising either that she defaulted or that she listed me as a reference without my knowledge or permission.

    – Political calls. Amusing when it’s someone calling for me to take part in a “telephone town meeting” that was about to start when the call was made; either the congressman in question didn’t get enough people signed up beforehand, or it’s a perfunctory gesture meant to signify that he “reached out to his constituents” without actually having to deal with their (probably) mostly negative opinions.

    – The occasional poll.

    – The heartbreaker: someone calling to check up on someone, I’m guessing an elderly person who may be a wrong number or previous number possessor; they never leave their own number or call when I’m there.

  • ironic irony

    The only reasons why we even have a landline are a) it’s bundled with our internet and, like twins sharing a brain, cannot be separated or the other will die, and b) we get to make free calls to the States from Germany (although I don’t even bother with that anymore since both my husband and I Skype with our families now so that the grandparents can see the granddaughter they haven’t met yet). Once we buy a house and settle in one place for longer than 2 years, we might get one again, but I doubt it. Both of us don’t answer calls from numbers we don’t know, so- no polling for us. Oh, and we think Rmoney’s a dick. Cuz he is.

  • JR in WV

    Since I took statistics in school, and classes about sampling and modeling, I find polling interesting, and whenever our phone (landline) rings, I answer it.

    I have taken some fascinating polls o cover the years. The best are either Red Republican push polls (did you know thaty President Obama and North Korea are conspiring to confiscate our guns?) or commercial polls sponsored by large corporations.

    The best poll I ever took was from Cincinnati – probably Proctor and Gamble, which is based there. [Did you know that P&G is owned by a satanic cult? Proven by the number of stars in their copr. logo!] It was an in depth 30 minute poll about – toilet paper.

    I went into the bedroom where the spouse was reading, and turned on the speaker phone so she could hear the questions.

    They asked about the thickness of toilet paper we preferred, the tear strength of the toilet paper we preferred, the skin touch qualities of the toilet paper we preferred, the moisture absorption caIpabilities of the toilet paper we preferred, and why.

    They talked about the scent (or non-scent) of toilet paper, but I’ll share with you the vest best question they asked, after many hilarious moments with a very professional young woman. Who I asked about the amount of laughter she encountered while administering the poll. Lots was the impression I got.

    The best question that can be asked about toilet paper in a commercial context is “Which toilet paper does it make most proud to buy”?

    That is the peak of modern commercial polling. I think the push poll about North Korea coming to get my guns maybe the best political poll ever. But it’s hard to say for sure. There are so many funny ones.

    That is all. Carry on.

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