What the cell phone effect means to Election 2010

A man speaking on a cell phone. His head is surrounded by a miniature phone boot with a sign on the outside that reads “cell phone.”

The “cell phone effect” could skew election 2010 poll numbers, says Pew Research. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Scott Beale/Laughing Squid)

According to studies by the Pew Research Center, there is a “cell phone effect” that should prompt voters to question the validity of early Election 2010 results. As the New York Times puts it, about a quarter of American adults use mobile phones exclusively. Because many pollsters don’t call cell phones, results can be off by as much as four points, reports the Times.

Cell phone effect: Democrats may be closer than they appear

Pew Research claims that the demographic profile for cell phone-only voters – those who made coining the term “cell phone effect” necessary – is younger adults, more urban in localization and frequently a race other than Caucasian. Interestingly, these demographics coincide with those of many Democrats. That means Democrats could be as much as four points closer to the top than they appear.

Is it simple poll bias, or is it dissatisfaction?

Polls conducted without cell phones by Pew showed Republicans to be ahead by 9.3 points on average. Part of that might be because of the cell phone effect, while the rest could be attributed to dissatisfaction with the Obama administration’s inability to quickly remedy problem issues like unemployment and the housing market. However, many polls that do include cell phones have not shown the same kind of swing for Democrats, so the cell phone effect is most reasonably classified as theory at this point. Pew plans to analyze Election 2010 data more fully after all results are verified.

Finding bias among those considered most likely to vote

According to Pew Research, there is also bias to be found among those considered most likely to vote in Election 2010. Specifically, combined land line/cell phone polls showed a seven-point Republican lead. Breaking that down, half supported GOP Congressional candidates within their districts, while 43 percent backed Democratic candidates. Land-line only poll estimates among those likely to vote would have given Republicans a whopping 12-point lead, claims Pew Research.


New York Times

Pew Research Center

How the cell phone effect helped Obama in 2008

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