POLITICS
08/01/2016 04:06 pm ET

Here's Why HuffPost Is Dropping Polls That Rely Only On Landlines

Time to evolve.
CurvaBezier via Getty Images

As more Americans have made a mobile phone their main phone, polls that contact only landline phones look increasingly behind the times. HuffPost Pollster has decided we need to evolve. 

By the end of last year, 48 percent of American adults didn’t have a landline phone. Another 16 percent had a landline but relied mostly on their mobile phone to make and receive calls.

That’s 64 percent of Americans who are only or primarily reachable via mobile phone. The numbers go even higher for those under age 45 and for minorities. Sixty percent of Hispanic adults don’t have a landline at all, and more than two-thirds of Americans between ages 25 and 34 rely solely on a mobile phone.  

HuffPost Pollster has always sought to base our charts on as many sound polls as possible. As long as a pollster makes a good-faith professional effort to obtain a representative sample of the population, we include the survey’s results. In our opinion, polls that call only landlines with no attempt to sample the other half of the population no longer fit that description. So from now on, we will no longer include the results from landline-only telephone polls in our charts.

This decision isn’t likely to produce much change in the HuffPost Pollster charts. There are only a few professional pollsters that haven’t already adapted their methods to reach Americans without landlines. Most who use live interviewers began calling cell phone users several years ago. The most prolific operators of automated phone surveys, who can’t use their systems to call mobile phones, supplement their landline samples either with live-caller interviews of cell phone users or with internet samples.

But some pollsters have not adapted to this change in people’s behavior ― as Pew Research puts it, “going the way of the dinosaur.” That doesn’t mean their results are always wrong: Landline-only samples can be accurate in measuring elections such as Republican primaries, where the voters themselves are skewed older and whiter. In a higher-turnout contest with more diverse voters, however, there’s reason to think landline-only surveys can no longer accurately measure opinion.

Sure, polling data can be adjusted to better account for the missing people. But if you’re trying to adjust for missing half of all Americans, it’s time to fix your methods.

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