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Cellphone equals Democrat; land line equals Republican. Seriously

May 25, 2012|By Robin Abcarian
  • Mitt Romney talks on a cellphone aboard his campaign plane while traveling to Washington.
Mitt Romney talks on a cellphone aboard his campaign plane while traveling… (Mario Tama / Getty Images )

This just in from the technology-and-politics desk: If a cellphone user takes a pollster's call, he or she is more likely to be a Democrat. If a land-line user takes a pollster's call, he or she is more likely to be a Republican.

Gross generalization? Of course.

But it contains a kernel of truth, and gets at an issue that pollsters have been dealing with for years as more people disconnect land lines in favor of cellphones. In the aggregate, people who answer pollsters on their land lines tend to be more conservative than people who answer pollsters on cellphones.

That makes a certain kind of "no duh" sense, given that cellphone technology is newer, and younger people are -- again, in general -- better adapters. (Unlike their parents and grandparents, young adults don’t sit around fretting about how they would call 911 in event of a dead cellphone during a hypothetical emergency. Because they plan to live forever.)

A tidbit from three new NBC-Marist state polls -- which surveyed registered voters in Virginia, Ohio and Florida about the presidential campaign -- bears out the tele-generation gap.

In its story about the poll results, MSNBC’s First Read points out that in the Florida poll, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney "leads with landline respondents, 48%-45%." President Obama "leads among cell phone respondents, 57-34%." The numbers were similar in Virginia, though not noted for Ohio. Slightly more than a quarter of those polled answered on their cellphones in all three states.

It’s hard to know whether this means anything to the campaigns, whose own sophisticated polling operations surely take into account these kinds of discrepancies. "We don’t usually remark on any given poll," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Katie Hogan. The Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

It's the oft-maligned polling profession that is struggling to adjust.

For a discussion of some of the challenges facing pollsters, the Pew Research Center investigated the cellphone-versus-land-line issue in 2010.

Pew reported that "the number of Americans who rely solely or mostly on a cell phone has been growing for several years, posing an increasing likelihood that public opinion polls conducted only by landline telephone will be biased."

Pew's analysis of preelection surveys that year found that "support for Republican candidates was significantly higher in samples based only on landlines than in ... samples that combined landline and cell phone interviews.”

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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