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Pollsters Find Cell Phones Hard To Reach

This story was written by Nick Hasty, Iowa State Daily

Presidential polling numbers might not be accurately representing the influence of younger voters.

Because the younger generation in America carries mainly cell phones and doesnt own land lines, pollsters have a harder time reaching them.

There have been a lot of questions raised by the media and among academics about why Obama is not way farther ahead in the polls, said Mack Shelley, Iowa State University professor of political science and statistics. You begin to worry about cell phones being the only telephonic link with younger people potentially voters. It might tend to disproportion the perception of the whole results.

The reason Shelley thinks those underrepresented may be youth and Obama supporters, or at least left-leaning, is because youth seem to be more progressive, he said. He said older people tend to be over-represented in polls because their land line use makes them a captive audience.

Its possible that the underrepresentation of younger respondents in these polls is going to underreport Obama supporters, Shelley said.

Paul Vidmar, junior in civil engineering and vice-chairperson of ISU Republicans, said he doesnt believe Obama would gain more in the polls if more cell phone users were polled.

It is just kind of a hopeful wish, Vidmar said. The polls done by land phone could also lean Obama because more than a few in the older age group are reluctant to do phone surveys, and a lot of them are leaning McCain, so, in the end each side is kind of excluded.

Vidmar said there was an Associated Press article that explained candidate preferences arent much different from land lines to cell phones.

An article published by the Pew Research Center showed over three different polls with cell phone-only respondents were significantly more supportive of Obama, by 10 to 15 percentage points, than respondents in the landline sample. A September survey showed Obama led McCain by a 55 percent to 36 percent margin among cell phone-only voters, but the candidates were tied at 45 percent in the land line sample.

Shelley said although the margin of cell phone-only Obama supporters unaccounted for may be impossible to measure, the chances that Obama would be further a head in the polls is more than likely.

Shelly said cell phones are essentially harder to reach because they are not public.

Its not impossible to pick up cell phones in random bits of dialing, but its real tricky, Shelley said.

The problem may not be reaching cell phones as much as it is getting people to respond. Shelley said polling calls over cell phones turns off many potential voices.

I think its seen as kind of intrusive if somebody dials your cell and starts asking you survey questions, Shelley said. Generally because youre on the go and youve got more important stuff to do.

Some cell phone users may not even listen to polls with calls that show up as unavailable on number identification screens.

Its a different logic that works with cell phones, Shelley said.

This presents a difficult problem because youth who only have cell phones are mostly first time voters and new to the political system, Shelley said. None of these problems arise with the elderly.

The obvious connection here is cell phones and young people tend to go together; landlines and old people tend to go together, Shelley said. Its hard to find many people under 30 that dont have anything, except a cell phone.