With cell phones excluded from surveys, are polls skewed?

Harry Reid questions polls putting him in a close race for his Senate seat, noting bias found also in a recent Pew study

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In seven prior Rasmussen polls, the two candidates were consistently three points apart or less.

Scott Rasmussen, president of the independent polling firm, said by e-mail that Rasmussen Reports surveys do not include calls to cell phones, although the company is experimenting with ways that it could do that in the future.

However, Rasmussen argues that including cell phone users would make little difference in the survey results for 2010.

He noted that young adults both with and without landline phones "tend to be more supportive of Democrats than their elders," but he added that "at the same time, they are less likely to show up and vote this year."

Young voters in general typically turn out in greater numbers for presidential elections than they do for mid-term elections.

The impact of cell phone users on surveys "is likely to change within the next couple of years," which is why Rasmussen Reports hopes to reach cell-phone-only users in future years, Rasmussen said.

Pew's analysis is different. It noted that landline survey samples (compared with samples that include calls to both landline and cell phones) in three of four polls conducted since the spring of 2010 produced "slightly more support for Republican candidates and less support for Democratic candidates, resulting in differences of four to six points in the margin." The fourth poll showed no difference.

A fifth Pew poll, conducted in late August and early September, surveyed 2,816 likely voters, 786 of whom were reached on cell phones. Overall, 43% of the respondents said that they would vote Democratic in congressional races and 50% said that they would vote Republican. Excluding the cell phone respondents, the results changed to 53% saying they would vote Republican and 41% saying they would vote Democratic.

Pew is planning a more comprehensive analysis following the Nov. 2 elections.

Angle's spokesman could not be reached to comment on this issue.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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