Capturing Cell Phone-Only Users in Political Polls Fourteen percent of Americans don't have landline phones. Pollsters wonder whether this affects polls, which don't target cell phones. A new study suggests non-landline users are like others in their young demographic on political matters, but may differ on others issues.
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Capturing Cell Phone-Only Users in Political Polls

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Capturing Cell Phone-Only Users in Political Polls

Capturing Cell Phone-Only Users in Political Polls

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Fourteen percent of Americans now do not have landline phones. In a political year that may have particular significance, because pollsters and market researchers don't poll people who have only cell phones. Pew Research Center just conducted a study to gauge the differences between people who only use cell phones and those who have landlines. Scott Keeter, the center's Director of Survey Research joins us now from his office. Thank you for being with us.

Mr. SCOTT KEETER (Director of Survey Research, Pew Research Center): My pleasure.

SIMON: Can you generalize about the particular kind of person who only has a cell phone?

Mr. KEETER: Yes. Almost half of the cell phone only people are under the age of 30. As a result of that, they're much less likely to be married, and they're more likely to be renters. And they also tend to be racial minorities. A larger percentage of them are African American. A significantly larger percentage are Hispanic.

SIMON: Let's make the extrapolation a lot of marketers, and certainly this year political people, are eager to make. Are they different in some of their political attitudes or commercial habits because of that?

Mr. KEETER: They are. As we know from the 2004 and 2006 elections, young people are more Democratic than other age groups. They were in fact, John Kerry's best age group in the 2004 election. And of course, they have different musical tastes and other consumer tastes as well. But the important thing about our study and other studies that have been done is that for most of the kinds of questions that we ask here at the Pew Research Center, political questions, the young people that are cell only are not very different from the young people who are not cell only. And so our landline surveys are still doing a pretty good job of representing them because of that fact.

SIMON: How did you do this study?

Mr. KEETER: Well, we called cell phones.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KEETER: We did, actually, two polls...

SIMON: Which you're not supposed to do, right?

Mr. KEETER: Well, it's not illegal to do so. It's not legal to call them using automatic dialing systems, which is the way most polling organizations operate. But if you manually dial them, and then if you are respectful of the fact that they might be driving, then they'll talk with you. In fact, we got the same response rate in the cell phone samples as we did in our landline samples.

SIMON: So people who have only cell phones and not landline phones are not, in many ways, different than other people who share their other demographic traits who have landlines.

Mr. KEETER: Yes. That's true for political views and social attitudes. It's less true for certain kinds of lifestyle behaviors, things like binge drinking or fitness behaviors. And so it's important I think for researchers to look at their target populations and to think about what the subject matter is. For political surveys it doesn't seem to matter, but for other surveys it might.

SIMON: Scott Keeter of the Pew Research Center. Thanks very much.

Mr. KEETER: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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