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Understanding the Political Distinctiveness of the Cell Phone Only Public: Results from the 2006 and 2008 CCES

05/12/2009 10:27 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Brian Schaffner Associate Professor of political science, University of Massachusetts

A few weeks ago, I highlighted some preliminary findings from a paper written by myself and Stephen Ansolabehere for this week's AAPOR conference. The paper is now finished and you can check out a copy

here
. The data we use for the paper is the 2006 and 2008 Cooperative Congressional Election Study.

One of the major themes in the paper is that understanding the cell-only population is about more than just age. In fact, residential mobility has a strong influence on whether someone has shed their landline. Even after controlling for age and a litany of other demographic variables, we find that respondents who moved within the last year were 24 percentage points more likely to be cell only than those who had lived in the same residence for at least five years. Renters, singles, and those without children were also much more likely to be cell-only.

Our explanation for this pattern:

"There are several reasons that highly mobile Americans may be more likely to go without landlines. First, whenever someone moves from one residence to another, they have an opportunity to reassess their phone needs. Thus, the act of moving provides an opportunity for individuals to shed their landlines. Second, mobile Americans may choose a CPO lifestyle because cell phone numbers tend to be more portable than landlines. When moving from one metropolitan area to another, individuals must change their landline phone number, but do not need to change their cell number. This may provide an incentive for choosing not to maintain a landline in a new residence. Third, those with fewer family and community ties may feel less of a need to have multiple phone lines on which they can be reached by members of their social networks. "

The fact that the cell-only public tends to be more mobile has some important political consequences. Some highlights:

  • The difference in the percentage of landline and cell-only respondents who reported being registered was fairly small--over 95% in both groups. However, there was a much larger gap in actual registration rates (66.8% versus 53.9%). Since cell-onlys are more likely to have moved recently, they may not have successfully registered to vote at their new addresses despite the fact that they may think they are registered.
  • Cell-only respondents were significantly more likely to have problems with their registration when attempting to vote. In 2008, over 7% of cell-only respondents indicated that there was a problem with their registration when they attempted to vote, compared to fewer than 4% of respondents with landlines.
  • Cell-only respondents were more than twice as likely as those with landlines to report that neither campaign contacted them. In short, this group is much less likely to be subjected to mobilization efforts from the campaigns.
  • Cell-onlys are politically distinct on a variety of measures. However, this distinctiveness is somewhat muted when demographic controls are taken into account. Interestingly, the largest differences between cell-only and landline respondents are not on issues or ideological self-placement, but on reported vote choices.
  • Ultimately, we argue that weighting for standard demographic measures such as age, education, income, and race may not be sufficient. Pollsters relying on landline samples may want to consider weighting by other factors such as time in residency, renter/home owner, and marital status. But check out the

    full paper
    for a more detailed discussion of all of these points.

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