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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Polling Chasm

Every day, it seems, a new presidential preference poll is released. Some are national, some are state-specific. Some survey registered voters, some survey likely voters. But all of them are conducted by telephone, which I find problematic.*

How can those polls-by-phone truly represent the American populace when so many of us no longer have landlines? Once my daughter entered high school and we gave her a cell phone -- which my wife and I have had since the 1990s -- we no longer needed a "home phone." Now that she's out of college, she shares an apartment with friends, but none of them had to wait around all day for the phone company installer to show up and put in a landline since they each have their own numbers.

They're part of a large generation that will never have a home phone, so how can pollsters who can't reach them assess which candidates they support? You could argue that they're also in the demographic that's least likely to vote, and there's truth in that -- the older you are, the more likely you are to fill out a ballot and have a home phone. Still, that's leaving out a lot of people, and we're not all millennials.

Of course, those of us with just a cell phone are still reachable, but we use technology to ignore lots of calls. When my iPhone buzzes with an incoming call, I always check the screen to see who it's from, and if it's not someone on my contact list -- and thus recognized by the phone -- I don't answer it. I assume that if I do know the caller but my phone doesn't, they'll leave me a voicemail and I can get back to them. Thus, if there's no voicemail, I pay no attention to that call.

Occasionally, one of those automated calls ("Hi, it's Rachel from card services!") will end up on my voicemail. In those instances, I'll delete it and then block the number it came from, thus reducing the odds of future annoyance from that company.

Even if I did accidentally answer a pollster's call, I can't imagine spending more than 10 seconds before I said, "no thanks, goodbye" and hanging up. I have no more interest in sharing my electoral preferences with an anonymous caller than I do in filling out the inevitable survey-by-email I receive from every company I do business with (no, I'm not going to rate your turkey sandwich on a scale of one to ten!).

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not claiming that all polls are invalid because my opinion isn't included. I know there are plenty of people who willingly submit to surveys and questionnaires about all sorts of things, including the presidential race. I just wonder how representative the results are if so many of us are off the pollsters' grids to begin with.

Maybe we're the margin of error.

*Polls conducted online rather than by phone tend to be self-selecting and about as informational as the vote-by-text questions asked during a Monday Night Football game ("which team will throw the ball more often?"). In other words, they're meaningless clutter.