Cell Phone Update

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CELL PHONE UPDATE….A new Pew study confirms something that Nate Silver wrote about a couple of days ago: We’ve finally gotten to the point where there’s a serious cell phone bias in political polling:

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has conducted three major election surveys with both cell phone and landline samples since the conclusion of the primaries….A virtually identical pattern is seen across all three surveys: In each case, including cell phone interviews resulted in slightly more support for Obama and slightly less for McCain, a consistent difference of two-to-three points in the margin.

Back in 2004 the cell phone effect wasn’t big enough to worry about, but cell phone penetration has continued to build, and now it is. A 2-3 point margin is pretty significant in an election cycle where the two candidates have rarely been more than five points apart.

At this point, I think political polls probably ought to routinely disclose whether they include cell phones in their calling samples. If they don’t, they should be assumed to be at least moderately inaccurate. They can probably fix part of the problem by overweighting young people in their landline sample, but that’s an iffy workaround. It’s true that cell phone polling is more expensive since it has to be done by human beings, but I’m afraid that’s going to be the price of entry for serious pollsters in the future.

And if that means fewer polls? Consider it a feature, not a bug.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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