Civil Beat has been conducting regular public opinion polls since shortly after we launched our site in May 2010.
For two election cycles, The Civil Beat Poll has attempted to gauge how the public is feeling about individual candidates as well as issues that are up for public debate. We’ve conducted polling several times a year, and 2013 is no exception; we’ve penciled a number of polls into our editorial budget.
But because we’re Civil Beat and all about transparency, we acknowledge when something goes wrong and we bring you with us as we try to figure it out.
One thing that has garnered a lot of public finger-pointing is the fact that we don’t call cell phones. This is because we use “interactive voice response technology,” also known as touch-tone polling or robo-polling. Basically, a computer dials likely voters who then take the poll by pushing buttons on their phones.
Federal law prohibits computer-dialing of cell phones. So for the past two years we’ve only called landlines.
Some people argue that skews the results because many folks these days don’t have landlines. One argument goes that our polls disproportionately reflect older voters because they have landlines and younger voters have cell phones. We’ve always theorized that because young people don’t participate in the political process anyway in Hawaii, polls that reflect the views of older voters are likely not a bad test of the public sentiment.
Still, we’ve found a way to have the best of both worlds — landlines and cell phones — while still using touch-tone polling which we like for a number of reasons. Yes, cost is a factor and keeping the cost down allows us to do more public opinion surveys then we could otherwise afford.
Starting with this poll, our partners at Merriman River Group are reaching out to cell phone users and asking them if they’d be willing to take a touch-tone poll. When they say yes, they’re patched through to the computer poll.
Research conducted prior to this poll shows that most registered voters in Hawaii have both landlines and cell phones. Fewer than 20 percent of registered voters — we’re not talking about all residents, just registered voters — have cell phones only.
One of the questions on this survey was whether the person taking the poll had a cell phone, a landline or both.
Eighty percent said both, 11 percent said cell phone only and 9 percent said landline only. These poll results pretty closely track that breakdown.
We’re still working through this issue and crunching the numbers from previous polls compared to this one to see how they all shake out.
Matt Fitch, who runs Merriman River Group, says it’s still too early to tell whether the addition of cell phones is going to make much of a difference in our polling. That’s partly because this poll is about issues and there’s nothing to really judge it against like there is in an election when our poll says one thing and the ballot says something quite different.
“We’ll see when we have a candidate,” Fitch says.
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Patti Epler is the Editor and General Manager of Civil Beat. She's been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Arizona. You can follow her on twitter at @PattiEpler, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 808-377-0561.