The Effect of Cellphones: Revisted

I did some further research, after posting a previous article on cellphones, and it appears that there is a legal caveat to automatically dialing cellphones. This caveat comes in the form of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 which in section (b)(1)(A)(iii) states that it is unlawful to make a call using an autodialer or prerecorded voice to any telephone number assigned to a cellular telephone service. Sounds hopeless, but in (b)(2)(C) an exemption is detailed:

(C) may, by rule or order, exempt from the requirements of paragraph (1)(A)(iii) of this subsection calls to a telephone number assigned to a cellular telephone service that are not charged to the called party, subject to such conditions as the Commission may prescribe as necessary in the interest of the privacy rights this section is intended to protect;

This exemption clearly shows that it is not illegal to include cellphones in a random sample so long as the service provider of the randomized number is known. A quick google search reveals that such a thing is possible. ReverseGenie runs a service that allows a user to enter a phone number, and returns the service provider along with a boat load of other information; the service is $40 a year and allows for an unlimited number lookups. Using this service, or a similar technology would clearly allow a pollster to sift out the numbers they cannot legally dial from a randomized set. Whether pollsters do this once they have a randomized set is unknown (SurveyUSA uses a phone number provider that does include cellphones), but if they take the time to ensure they are not autodialing a hospital (which is illegal and must be done) they likely also have the ability to check the service provider.

I called Rasmussen Reports and asked: "Are cell phones included in your random samples?" The response: "No."

I next called Quinnipiac University and asked the same question. Their response: "The numbers are randomly generated and through that course cell phones are occasionally called. When this happens, the respondent's number is removed from the pool of available numbers." This was a very curious response because Quinnipiac University does not use an autodialer and could therefore legally talk to the respondent, but ultimately they seek to only include landlines in their polling samples.

I'm still in the process of contacting other pollsters to determine whether cell phones are included in their samples.

Published on August 20th at 6:00 PM CT :: 5 Comments

Kerry States: Cornerstone of Election

A few days ago I looked at the possibility of an Obama victory if McCain were to win Florida and Ohio. The results effectively showed that the election hinges on the Kerry states. Under this assumption Obama needs only to secure his base, while McCain needs to reach into his opponent's heartland. With the VP decision looming just over the horizon a perfect choice could tip the balance.

If we first focus on the Kerry states that McCain has any shot of winning there are six, Minnesota (10), Pennsylvania (21), Iowa (7), Wisconsin (10), Michigan (17) and New Hampshire (4). Of these six states, three stand out with possible VP choices; Minnesota with Gov. Pawlenty, Michigan with Fmr. Gov. Romney, and Pennsylvania with Fmr. Gov. Ridge. They all have advantages and drawbacks; there is no clear front runner under this scenario.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, viewed by some as the front runner solely on the basis of his Republican status in a blue state, is far from perfect. Two main issues could haunt a Pawlenty Vice Presidency; [1] Pawlenty broke campaign finance laws during his initial bid for the governorship resulting in fines of $600,000 [Source: Minnesota Public Radio] and [2] his association with the I-35W Bridge Collapse. He charged his Lt. Governor Carol Molnau with the task of reforming the Minnesota Department of Transportation until she was removed in the aftermath of the collapse for not reading bridge inspection reports. [Source: NY Times] He also vetoed legislation both before and after the collapse that would have increased the gas tax and in turn infrastructure spending. Pawlenty, as a VP candidate would become the poster child of infrastructure neglect, and Carol Molnau would become the Governor of Minnesota. Not only does Pawlenty have some marks against him, but some people may actually vote against him (although they support him) in order to avoid a Molnau Governorship, if that makes sense; Pawlenty is out.

Massachusetts' Former Governor Mitt Romney (of Michigan ancestry) would likely shift the Wolverine State Blue solely by being placed on the ticket. The problem, McCain hates his guts. Romney is also a Mormon and uninformed evangelicals blindly hate the Mormon religion which could hurt McCain in the Bible Belt. Other than those two issues Romney is the superior choice because he brings authoritative economic know how and a boat load of money to the campaign. But it all comes down to whether whiny evangelicals will accept the religious beliefs of others; don't count on it, Romney's out.

Former Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania could also pose problems. For one he is pro-choice which may hurt McCains's evangelical support, but McCain needs a Kerry state to have any hope of winning so the trade off might be worth it. Tom Ridge was also involved with the downsizing of FEMA in 2003 before Katrina hit, a fact that could be used against the ticket. The reach of Katrina however is probably limited to Louisiana at this point, but it could have an affect in Iowa based on the recent flooding in a multitude of cities including Cedar Rapids and Des Moines. The fact remains however, that Iowa is probably Obama's and Louisiana is so far out of Obama's reach that the Katrina effect just won't matter. It appears that Tom Ridge could be McCain's best bet at winning a Kerry state.

Of all the possible VPs mentioned for Obama only one candidate hails from one of the three states previously mentioned, Senator Joe Biden who grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Joe Biden brings foreign policy experience from his 35 years in the US Senate and his time spent chairing the Foreign Relations Committee. He is also embarking on a solo trip to Georgia which could immediately counteract the Media's blind assertion that McCain is more knowledgeable about foreign policy affairs. There is also no risk of Biden's seat flipping upon his potential election to the Vice Presidency because Delaware is wildly democratic. The only downside is that he voted to authorize the War in Iraq. He is also viewed by the Media as a talker, but who honestly cares, he knows more about politics than probably any other Democrat with the possible exception of Ted Kennedy. Joe Biden solidifies a vital Kerry state while bringing foreign policy and a scandal free past to the ticket all, while forcing McCain's hand into a lose-lose-lose situation.

If Obama were to choose Joe Biden, McCain is left with the decision of whether to choose Tom Ridge and directly compete in Pennsylvania or to choose a more flawed candidate and concede Pennsylvania while trying to compete in another Kerry state. In any case McCain's base will be upset, which is exactly why Obama should take this opportunity to consolidate his base.

Published on August 17th at 12:33 AM CT :: 3 Comments

The Diminishing Effect of Cellphones

The key demographic of 2008 election is undoubtedly the youth vote; but is the youth vote represented in the current polling figures. It appears the answer may be tied to the inclusion or exclusion of cellphone sampling; younger adults are more likely to be overlooked by landline sampling due to their higher adoption rate of cellular phones. The inclusion or exclusion of cellphones from the sampling model does however vary by pollster. I looked through our polls and picked the four most prominent institutes: SurveyUSA, Rasmussen, Gallup and Quinnipiac University to delve deeper into their polling methodologies.

The results surprised me. Perhaps the most interesting item of note comes directly from the original report on the cellphone effect published by Pew Research. In the first line of the report it states that "Pollsters are continuing to monitor changes in telephone use by the U.S. public, since most surveys are still conducted using only landline telephones." That is just not the case; of the four main pollsters they all appear to incorporate a random digit dialing process that would insure the inclusion of cellphones into the sample. But that's not even the best part, Pew Research goes on to cite Survey Sampling, Incorporated as their data provider; the very same sample provider that SurveyUSA uses. To further the point, I've listed direct quotes from the four pollsters explicitly identifying their use of random phone numbers; this of course is contrary to the Pew report which appears to have neglected the research part.

"We do know that Survey Sampling, Inc., of Fairfield CT, is the largest and most respected provider of 'random sample' to opinion research companies."

"Calls are placed to randomly-selected phone numbers through a process that insures appropriate geographic representation."

"Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only)."

Quinnipiac University:
"Professionally trained students and non-students conduct the interviews using a CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing system). For a typical public opinion survey a randomly-selected sample of about 1,000 adults aged 18 and over are interviewed over a 5-6 day period."

Published on August 5th at 11:35 AM CT :: 0 Comments

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