James.qxp Nov Dec 2018 web - Page 8



In many (not all) instances data companies and others started
identifying cell phone respondents who agreed to future cell phone surveys.
t has now been almost three years
since ending my weekly column for
Creators Syndicate and two years since
ending my television career opining
on politics and analyzing political
polling. So, as they say, “let the buyer
beware.” There’s a good chance I could
be really off with observations about
the state of polling in 2018. What is
really scary, though, is that this is being written two
weeks before the November elections— but you won’t
likely see this until after the results are in.
Anyhow, here goes.
It has become almost a cliché to say that “the polls
are all off” after every election. I used to
hear it for decades, and, generally
speaking, those saying it were
wrong. Then came 2016
where I was certain
that they were terribly
off, and they were. They
missed, in part, because
many a respondent to
surveys that year did
not want to reveal that
they were supporting
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Many
a pollster weighted their
samples to reect a voter
turnout suited more for Democrat
Barack Obama (much younger and
with a high African-American surge
at the polls) than Hillary Clinton.
Yet there was another problem in
many 2016 polls that accelerated in 2018. It
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JAMES
N OV E M B E R / D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 8
is the issue of the much-talked-about and even more
misunderstood “cellphone interview.”
The so-called “mainstream media” and most academic/poll snobs are convinced that since landline
telephones have been disappearing at a rapid rate, the
only solution to having a valid poll is to replace many
of those past calls to homes (remember the old wall
mounted phones with their cords that would get all
tangled up?) with cellular surveys. This trend began in
2008 when many major newspapers and networks
began requiring that their pollsters include a small
cell phone sample in order to catch “the younger
vote,” which is a demographic they generally obsess
over but that in most election cycles always proves to
underperform and weaken the accuracy of the polls.
Fast forward to 2018 and cell phone samples. In
many surveys they are not only the rage, they dominate the majority of voters included in the polls.
You can’t really blame newspapers or pollsters
for trying to keep up with shifting demographics with a seemingly logical way to
do so. There is only one problem: the
new shift to surveys by cell failed
everyone miserably in 2016, and I
have a hunch may be even more
off base this year.
Just apply some simple
“average Joe” logic to this
issue. The idea originally
was to capture voters under the age of 30 by cell phone.
Okay, seems to make sense. That is, until you think
about the younger members of your own family. I have
generally found that they will text you to
death, but a real live cell phone call that
goes beyond “just the facts ma’am” is
highly unlikely. And when you reach
out beyond younger voters the question arises, who answers unknown
numbers that pop up on their mobile
device? Virtually no one.
Which gets us to the issue of
how these cell phone-laden surveys
are conducted and why they may be
increasingly off in future years.
In many (not all) instances data
companies and others started identifying
cell phone respondents who agreed to future
cell phone surveys. That changes the whole nature
of any surveys when such respondents are included
in the future. That’s because the people who are
actually willing to take a 20-minute survey about
politics on their mobile phone are much more likely
to be hyperpolitical types who have a whole lot of
definite opinions and a whole lot of time on their
hands. That makes these respondents more like a
panel— and it takes a lot of the “random” out of a
random survey.
Then there are surveys that truly call cell phones
randomly. But given the increasing amount of scams
going to mobile devices and the way most people with
any sense tend to limit their cellular use to people
they actually know, one wonders if the cell phone
interview from a pollster is one that culls down to the
most unusual of respondent. After all, the old landline
survey was taken in the comfort of home and before
most Americans became obsessed with reading and
texting, not talking, on their smartphones.
The bottom line is that many surveys conducted
under this new cell-crazy polling fad tend to skew
young and likely liberal in political views. No
amount of correction by weighting up older or more
conservative respondents can rectify the inherent
flaw in such a poll.
So, if the battle for control of the U.S. House is
not the blowout for the Democrats as was predicted
when writing this column, you likely will know
why. Ditto for many other contests. Perhaps I
will be wrong, and, if so, it is a good thing
I’m retired from the business. But if
everyone is a bit shocked that the
“blue wave” turns out to be less
overwhelming than predicted
when the final votes are tallied,
then it should be clear that in the age of
the cell phone and President Trump, public opinion polls just can’t get it quite right.
Matt Towery is the chairman and co-founder of InsiderAdvantage/James
magazine. He resides in Florida with his wife Dolle.
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