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What is the Cell Phone Factor? Do polls matter at all?

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It might be a non-issue this year. Pollsters certainly think so, but the fact that young Americans increasingly rely exclusively on mobile phones may lead to November surprises – significant errors in polling predictions. I wrote about this a few months ago, and CNN is on it today. How many people who use only cell phones (or rocking Vonage VOIP) – folks like me who are ‘invisible’ to pollsters – will vote in the upcoming election?

If enough do, the polls could be off. Says CNN,

“Pollsters don’t think the cell phone issue will affect them this year, but they are worried about it,” said Michael Brick, a survey methods specialist at Westat, a research firm in Rockville, Maryland. “This may be the last round of presidential elections before it does have an effect.”

That could be wishful thinking. Will it matter? While I would assume that the cell-phone only crowd might favor Kerry, recent polling data (chuckle) suggests that the 19-29 crowd are fairly mixed in their choices for president:

An AP-Ipsos poll taken last week showed President Bush and Sen. John Kerry were running about even among voters 18-29, though Kerry has led among that group in some polls.

Also important to consider is the military vote…there are hundreds of thousands of voters who, at least in self-reported polls, overwhelmingly favor Bush to Kerry. The Miami Herald tells us this is conceivably a big factor:

Florida has 1.8 million veterans, about 100,000 active duty military personnel and more than 30,000 National Guard and Reserve members.

There’s also an uncounted component. Service personnel can claim Florida residency while stationed in the state and keep it when transferred, said Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Pat Hollarn. Many maintain their Florida residency because the state doesn’t have an income tax – and they also can continue vote here.

Indeed, these overseas votes were important in 2000,

During the 2000 recount, the courts rejected a Democratic attempt to throw out 2,411 overseas ballots, most of them military, because they arrived after Election Day. Bush got 1,575 of the challenged ballots to 836 for Gore, a difference of 739 that changed the outcome.

Polls are great fun for pundits, and if they’re at least somewhat accurate, they can be helpful tools, but one must wonder, if they’re not able to talk to millions of voters, do they really mean anything at all?

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  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Telephone polls that exclude cell phone users also exclude the homeless (who Democrats can easily buy in swing states for a pack of cigarettes).

    And, anyway, I’m a cell phone user, and I am voting for Bush.

    Polls matter. Everyone knows it. But the Dems are trying to belittle the polls because they aren’t showing the results they hoped for.

    Bush will win, and petty sniping from Dems will be forgotten…

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    Good entry, Jeffrey. Combines two topics that deserve our attention, but don’t get it enough: the shift to cell phone only for parts of the population and the youth vote.

    As you may know, I live in a state where we vote by mail. Though it gets John Ashcroft’s goat for some reason, that has worked out fine. If voting by mail were expanded, some of the ‘iffininess’ about getting votes in time would be eliminated.

  • http://macaronies.blogspot.com Mac Diva

    Jeremy. (I really should not be writing blog comments while half asleep.)

  • http://www.iamcorrect.blogspot.com Lono

    the last numbers I heard were that 5% of Americans are purely wireless now, and 15% of folks age 18-30. Now, clearly I am about to go on a mild stereotyping binge, my guess is the bulk of young people have their hearts and eyes and brains still open – and so will vote against Bush.

    Lemme tell you a little bit more, without getting myself into trouble. I manage in a call center for a large wiresless carrier and have for the last 7 years. Lemme tell, these folks aren’t Republicans.

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Sure they aren’t. They’re still working in Call Centers…