1948 was a tough year for pollsters covering the presidential race between Republican candidate, Thomas E. Dewey, and Democrat candidate, Harry S. Truman. The top three pollsters of the day (Crossley, Gallup, and Roper) had Dewey up five or more points going into the election. So confident was the Chicago Tribune of Truman’s defeat that it went to press before many of the exit poll locations had a chance to report. The results were 150,000 printed newspapers with a headline that read “Dewey Defeats Truman” and a humiliating public relations moment at the hands of our 33rd president.
At the heart of this polling mishap was the use of “quota sampling” that didn’t take into effect the bias telephone ownership had toward the wealthy who were more likely to be Republicans than Democrats.
Hmm, sampling bias, phones, emerging media, presidential election.
The 2008 presidential election brought validity to the power of emerging media. Then-Senator Obama was the first presidential candidate to Tweet, Facebook, and blog. This phenomenon led the Pew Research Center to conduct a study in 2010 titled, “Politics Go Mobile.” They concluded that polls conducted in households with only a landline phone gave Republicans a five-point edge. Some things never change. On the other hand, polls conducted in homes using both a landline and mobile phone leaned Democratic. The assertion was that mobile phone users are younger and trend toward being Democrats. The study also reveals that whether Democrat or Republican, mobile phone owners who are politically involved rank higher in the adoption of emerging media.
This leads me to another Pew study conducted 6 months ago, titled, “35% of American Adults Own a Smartphone,” which concluded that smartphone owners on average tend to be wealthier and better educated. The study also reveals a strong sub-culture of approximately one quarter of smartphones owners who use the device primarily for Internet access. This group is predominately young, non-white, with a relatively lower income, and has limited access to broadband.
This upcoming election proves to be interesting in terms of the use of emerging media and its effect on polling. As usual, political extremes are amplified, measured, and made into opinion. Two extremes that shouldn’t be overlooked in 2012 are the landline only vs. mobile only crowds.