Opinion: Land line use a better election predictor than Twitter or Facebook?

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With politicians and voters increasingly turning to social media networks like Twitter and Facebook during campaign season, it’s easy to forget that something supposedly as antiquated as a land line could play a key part in predicting election results.

A land line is a telephone that is connected by wire to a communications network, unlike a cellphone, which voters or politicians now use to wirelessly update their Twitter or Facebook status rather than talking. As previously noted by the Ticket, some social media firms said that by analyzing voter behavior on Twitter and Facebook they could accurately predict midterm results.

Now a Pew Research study has found that support for Republican candidates was much higher among land line users, rather than those who combined cellphone use with their home phones, a finding that helps explain –- and could have been used to predict -- the Republican surge at the polls.

Across three Pew Research polls conducted in the lead-up to the midterms, the GOP vote was on average 5.1 percentage points larger in the land line sample. In the final pre-election poll, the land line sample of likely voters found Republican candidates ahead 51%-39%, a 12-point lead.

Strikingly, users reached by cellphone are much younger than those reached by a land line -- 22% of ...

... dual cell/land line users interviewed on their cellphone are younger than age 30, compared with only 8% of dual users reached on their land line.


As the Ticket previously noted in the link above, voters 45 and older dominated this midterm election, casting 67% of the vote, compared with 53% just two years ago. The Pew survey noted that in the fall of 2008, Barack Obama’s lead over John McCain was on average 2.4 percentage points smaller in the land line samples than in the combined samples.

The survey notes: “Young people are difficult to reach by land line phone, both because many have no land line and because of their lifestyles.”

Cellphone users, the survey found, are younger, more likely to be black or Hispanic, less likely to be college graduates, less conservative and more Democratic in their vote preference than dual users reached by land line.

Among cellphone only voters, there is a slight Democratic edge of 47% to 44%, which comes under the margin of statistical error.

The survey was conducted among 5,216 likely voters, including 1,712 interviewed on cellphones.

Rather than analyze social media behavior in midterm elections, which younger voters typically skip unless driven to the polls by a single issue, it seems all you need to accurately predict midterm results is a land line, and somebody on the other end of it.

-- Craig Howie

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