Mark Blumenthal writes an interesting summary in NationalJournal.com of remarks made by SurveyUSA founder Jay Leve about the future of randomized telephone polling. For the past several decades, telephone polling has been the most cost-effective way of constructing an unbiased probability sample of American households -- an essential prerequisite for meaningful public-opinion surveys. But changes in people's attitude towards the telephone, and changes in communications technology, are together making this research tool less reliable. Leve notes that young adults are particularly underrepresented in randomized phone samples: for every 100 young adults SurveyUSA expects to reach, based on population statistics, they actually only manage to find 24.
To conclude his talk, Leve summed up the problem. All phone polling, he said, depends on a set of assumptions:
You're at home; you have a [home] phone; your phone has a hard-coded area code and exchange which means I know where you are; ... you're waiting for your phone to ring; when it rings you'll answer it; it's OK for me to interrupt you; you're happy to talk to me; whatever you're doing is less important than talking to me; and I won't take no for an answer -- I'm going to keep calling back until you talk to me.
The current reality, he said, is often much different:
In fact, you don't have a home phone; your number can ring anywhere in the world; you're not waiting for your phone to ring; nobody calls you on the phone anyway they text you or IM you; when your phone rings you don't answer it -- your time is precious, you have competing interests, you resent calls from strangers, you're on one or more do-not-call lists, and 20 minutes [the length of many pollsters' interviews] is an eternity.
All of this brought Leve to a somewhat stunning bottom line: "If you look at where we are here in 2009," for phone polling, he said, "it's over... this is the end. Something else has got to come along."
Full article at . (Hat tip to Taegan Goddard.)