- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 30, 2002


The rapid growth of cell phones, caller-ID technology and answering machines, combined with the public's growing resistance to opinion surveys, are making it more difficult for pollsters to do their jobs.

Most agree, however, that those forces have not crippled telephone polls. And the industry is unlikely to abandon phone surveys without something more reliable to take their place.

“I think that polls face increasing obstacles and barriers,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. “But polls done with reasonable schedules and reasonable rigor can still overcome these barriers.”

The Pew Research Center has conducted research in the past that tested whether polls conducted over several days would get results similar to exhaustive surveys taken over several months. The study found no significant differences in the results, but the center plans to do a similar study this spring.

Increasing obstacles to phone polling are less likely to affect national polls done by top polling firms that follow accepted practices of selecting a random sample and doing a thorough follow-up to reach everyone possible.

The more immediate effect is on state polls done with smaller samples on a smaller budget, sometimes by polling companies not familiar with state demographics and voting patterns.

Some polls taken just before this year's midterm election picked up a voter surge toward Republicans in several Senate races after President Bush's barnstorming campaign tour, while others missed that surge.

Pollsters and analysts faced the additional challenge of an unprecedented combination of anxieties about terrorism, the economy and a potential war with Iraq.

National polls in the close 2000 presidential race were generally quite accurate.

Those in the polling business are constantly researching what's happening to their industry, which plays a critical role in both the political debate and marketing strategies.

Georgia State researcher Charlotte Steeh is working to gauge the growing effect of cell phones, which pollsters find are more difficult to contact and are gradually becoming the main phone some people use for personal communications.

“I think we're missing identifiable demographic groups like young people in urban areas who just don't have land lines anymore,” Miss Steeh said. “My research is designed to determine the extent of people we're missing altogether.”

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