Monday, May 24, 2010

Assessing the Cell Phone Challenge

The latest estimates of telephone coverage, released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics, found that 25% of households (and 23% of adults) in the second half of 2009 had no landline service and only cell phone service (just 2% of households had no telephone service of any type). For certain subgroups in the population, the numbers are considerably higher: 30% of Hispanics are cell-only, as are 49% of adults ages 25-29.

Yet pollsters and other survey researchers who use the telephone as the principal means of reaching potential respondents face a difficult decision as to whether to include cell phones in their samples. Doing so adds significantly to the cost and complexity of conducting surveys at a time when respondent cooperation is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.

The following analysis updates and extends a previous Pew Research Center study of possible non-coverage bias in social and political surveys conducted by telephone. The study compares weighted estimates from landline samples to those obtained from combined samples of landline and cell respondents. Items selected include nearly all of the key indicators regularly tracked by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Internet & American Life Project (e.g., presidential approval, party affiliation, internet use, broadband adoption, sending and receiving text messages on a cell phone), as well as a sampling of other timely indicators (e.g., agreement with the Tea Party, approval of health care reform, use of cell phones to play music).

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