November 7, 2016

Phone Still Provides and Edge for Political Polling

An interesting Fox news clip used the analogy of the snack food “Slim Jim”, to describe how the network averages polling results. For those who aren’t familiar with Slim Jim, it’s a snack food that that uses a blend of different kinds of meats to make a spicy, ready to consume sausage.

To create their Slim Jim polling report, Fox combines their own poll with those of CBS, ABC and CNN. And, for good measure they add in the QUINNIPIAC poll (link to the video explanation is at the bottom of this article). What all the individual polls have in common is that they are phone-only, and include responses from both landline and cellphone users.

The Merits of Phone Polling

Despite broad internet adoption and the proliferation of smartphones, online polls have yet to match the predictive power of phone polling. According to, the recent best performing polls have been from Monmouth University and Marist College where live interviews are conducted over both landline and cellphone. Calling cellphones also have less chance for coverage error. More low-income adults now own cellphones but lag other demographics for internet adoption.

A look back at the Brexit polling is interesting. The pre-Brexit polls ranged from a small support for a “leave” vote, to significant support of a “remain” vote. UK political blogger Matt Singh quoted in a Bloomberg article prior to the vote stated that “The online samples have got too many socially conservative people, and the phone polls have got too many socially liberal people. On the referendum, the true picture is closer to the phone polls, but they’re both wrong.” In the end, both pre-Brexit online and phone polls were wrong, but phone polls were consistent in predicting only a small support for “remain”. The differences in results between the polling modes are perplexing and there are a lot of smart people looking into the issues.

For the foreseeable future, adopting a Slim Jim approach, with the ingredients being a mix of online, landline and cellphone responses may be a good option. This is the reason Survox continues to develop IVR and CATI survey platforms that allow a single survey to be used across channels (online, IVR and CATI).

The take-away is that as opinion polls and businesses strive to get more accurate insights from citizens and consumers, the phone will continue to play an important part in research strategy.

link to Fox News video:

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