By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Obama’s cell-phone problem

Is technology costing Barack Obama points in the polls? National Public Radio yesterday broadcast a fascinating report on the looming meltdown of polling as we know it.

Officials with the Obama campaign believe their guy is receiving disproportionate support from young, black and Hispanic voters. All three of these groups are more likely than the rest of the population to have ditched their land lines in favor of a cell-phone-only lifestyle. And pollsters rarely call cell phones, for obvious reasons. (How would you like to receive a cell-phone call from a pollster?)

According to the NPR story, polling experts believe the cell-phone conundrum isn’t out of hand yet, and that the sampling population can be adjusted by weighting it differently. Clearly, though, technology is changing the face of polling. If Obama does better than his polling numbers in New Hampshire, we’ll know one of the reasons why.

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DePetro does it again


Not either/or


  1. Anonymous

    Didn’t this come up regarding support for Kerry and Democratic Congressional candidates in 2004? And isn’t land line ditching a generational thing, not an ethnic thing?

  2. O-FISH-L

    I’m no fan of Obama but there’s definitely something to the “cell phone as only phone” wave that could easily skew the polls. It’s not just young blacks or Hispanics either.About four years ago, a young (white) woman in her early 20’s was among the guests at my house for a party when she remarked, “How cute, you still have a house phone.” She was the first to inform me that most young people are going cell-phone-only nowadays. Her comments caused me to think of the economics of it all (paying $500+ per year for something I didn’t need) so within a week I had the house line disconnected. I’ve operated by cell-phone only for years now and I’m very pleased. For what it’s worth, I’ve never recieved any polling calls or any telemarketing calls for that matter either. I predict that in 10 years the house phone will be an endangered species.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    And isn’t land line ditching a generational thing, not an ethnic thing?According to the NPR story, it’s both.

  4. Mike from Norwell

    Dan, I hope you have on your reference shelf Darrell Huff’s immortal tome “How to Lie with Statistics”. Although written way back when, he successfully pointed out Perot’s US map area chart lie back in ’92; now looks like we might be looking at the Literary Digest’s 1936 telephone poll calling the election for Alf Landon. Different technology curves, but the same bias in each situation.Seriously, any reader out there who hasn’t read this book once or twice doesn’t know what they’re missing.

  5. Anonymous

    If calling 9-1-1 worked the same way for cell phones as it does land lines, land line use would really drop.

  6. Peter Porcupine

    Which is why I keep saying to fans of exit polling, etc. – the only poll that’s worth a damn is held every two years in November!

  7. David Appell

    Do pollsters not call cell phones because they don’t want to bother them or because they don’t know their numbers because they’re not in the directory? I suspect it’s the latter. There are companies working on centralized directories for cell phones, and I suspect they are going to be here in a few years. And I think a lot of people will want that (and some, like me, will hate it.) Then I bet pollsters will be calling cell phones.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    David: Could be, but as the NPR piece pointed out, it’s pretty complicated. You call a land line in the evening, and you can be pretty sure that if you reach someone, he’ll be free to talk. (Not that he will, necessarily.)Call a cell phone, and, right off the bat, you’re costing the recipient money — so you have to give her something. Plus, she could be driving or at a restaurant. And all sorts of other things.

  9. BHSPitMonkey

    Apparently it’s no longer a problem; Obama’s campaign decided to mass-dial recorded messages to the cell phones of my friends and I today in Texas. A-holes.

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