Cell Phones and the 2016 Elections

In December, the CDC released its most recent report on cell phone usage in the US.  The report showed that 44% of American households are currently cell phone-only, meaning that there is not a landline phone in the household.  This is a three-point increase over just six months ago, when cell phone-only households made up 41% of all American households.

If current trends hold, cell phone-only households will approach, if not surpass 50% by Election Day 2016.  While this report focuses on all households and not actual voters, the national exit polls show that the proportion of presidential election year voters who are cell phone-only (CPO in below chart) closely tracks with the national household average:

cellphones2016

This growth is important to monitor in the world of survey research, as pollsters need to follow this trend to ensure their samples are representative and include these cell phone-only households.  Exit polls have shown that cell phone-only voters are more likely to support Democratic candidates than those who have a landline in their household.

Perhaps the two most important groups for monitoring cell phone-only households are younger Americans and Hispanics.  These two groups turn out proportionally higher in Presidential election years than in mid-term years and are the most likely to be cell phone-only.

First looking at age, Americans 25-29 years old are the most likely to be without a landline, as 69% are in cell phone-only households.  And among the next age cohort (30-34), 65% are cell phone-only.  The number falls among older age groups (53% among 35-44 and 36% among 45-64), but even 16% of Americans age 65+ live in wireless-only households.  Without including a significant number of cell phones in the sample, these key Presidential Election year voters will not be a part of the polling sample, jeopardizing the accuracy of the results.

The CDC report also shows that 56% of Hispanic households are now cell phone only.  Comparatively, only 40% of white households are cell phone-only, and 45% of African American households.  In order to get an accurate sample of Hispanics (especially in states or districts where Hispanics make up a significant portion of the electorate), there is again a need sizable cell phone component to ensure these Hispanic voters are included.

For accurate polling in the 2016 elections, the number of cell phones included in polling samples needs to be increased over what was done in 2012 and 2014.  Public Opinion Strategies will continue to be an industry leader in conducting cell phone interviews during the 2016 cycle.

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