March 11, 2010

Are adults with only a cell phone represented in your polls?

Q. I — and most of my friends — only have a cell phone … and no landline. Are we represented in your polls? If so, how? There is no cell phone directory, is there?

Yes, indeed, you are represented in our polls. We routinely call cell phones — and we hope you will take our call if it comes! There are many cell-only people like you. According to Pew Research Center estimates based on government data, nearly one-quarter of adults in the U.S. (24%) now live in households with only a cell phone and no landline … about twice as many as live in households with a landline but no cell phone. Because the cell-only are very different from people who can be reached by landline (e.g., much younger, more likely to be renting, more likely to be black or Hispanic), it’s important to make sure they are represented in our polls. Nearly all Pew Research surveys now routinely include cell phones in their samples. At the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, we attempt to interview approximately one-third of the respondents for each survey on a cell phone (not all of these people are cell-only, but many of them are).

You are correct that there is no cell phone directory. But databases maintained by the telecommunications industry allow us to identify the specific prefixes and 1000-blocks of numbers to which most cell phone numbers are assigned (these are usually separate from the prefixes and blocks assigned to landline phones). From these known blocks of numbers, we can randomly generate complete telephone numbers that have a high likelihood of being working cell phone numbers. Federal law prohibits using an automatic dialing system to call these numbers, so our interviewers manually dial them. To help compensate cell phone owners for the possibility that they are paying for the call by using up their minutes, we offer to send them a small financial reimbursement.

You can find more details about our telephone survey methods in a special section at people-press.org.

Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research, Pew Research Center