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The leading association
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American Association for Public Opinion Research

2010 Cell Phone Report

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Media Contact:
Susan Tibbitts, [email protected]
Executive Director
+1-847-205-2651 x 252

AAPOR Releases the 2010 Cell Phone Report Evaluating
the Use of Cell Phones in Survey Research

-- New guidelines for researchers conducting telephone interviews --
-- Recent studies show cell phones’ impact on sampling, data quality and costs --

Deerfield, IL -- The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) announces an important update to its evaluation of the use of cell phones in survey research, and new guidelines for researchers conducting telephone interviews.

A steadily rising number of U.S. adults now have only a cell phone, requiring survey researchers to determine how to interview people on their mobile phones or risk unrepresentative results when studying the full population. Fully a quarter of U.S. households are now “cell only.”

To help the industry meet the difficult and costly challenges of cell phone surveys, AAPOR’s Cell Phone Task Force report, available at www.aapor.org, highlights important, new findings from the large number of studies conducted since the 2008 report was written.

The new cell phone surveying report offers essential background, including a description of how survey researchers select cell phone numbers, how excluding cell phones might affect results and how different types of cell phone and landline samples are adjusted to reflect the total population.

Although it remains too early to publish definitive standards or “best practices” for cell phone random digit dial (RDD) surveys, the report provides a clear set of questions any researcher should ask when conducting cell phone RDD surveying.

First, there is some good news: Despite initial fears, good cell phone samples are available for RDD research. Cell phone RDD samples consistently provide better coverage of the important demographic groups that often are underrepresented in landline-only RDD surveys, including men, younger adults and minorities.

However, there remain significant questions, including issues about coverage and sampling (e.g. “all cell” vs. “cell only” vs. “cell only and cell mostly”), non-response, potential bias and statistical weighting. There are also steep operational and cost issues, as well as legal and ethical considerations when interviewing people on cell phones.

A few key findings:

  • Data quality – People are somewhat less willing to respond to RDD cell phone surveys, but the gap with landline surveys is closing. Recent studies show only small differences between cell phone and landline interviews in terms of the data quality. But there are troubling signs for some types of data gathered via cell phone, including questions about respondents’ attentiveness to interviews. 
  • Statistical adjustments to samples (weighting) – Weighting cell phones is complicated. There are limited known population parameters, particularly when looking at cell phone samples at regional, state and local levels. Cell phone sharing also raises challenges to sample weighting.
  • Costs – Cell phone interviews are typically at least twice as expensive as landline interviews, and can be three or four times more costly. 
  • Transparency – The Task Force concluded that it is “vitally important for researchers to disclose and clearly describe” how they opted to include cell phones into their work.

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The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) is the leading professional organization of public opinion and survey research professionals in the U.S., with members from academia, media, government, the non-profit sector and private industry. AAPOR members embrace the principle that public opinion research is essential to a healthy democracy, providing information crucial to informed policymaking and giving voice to the nation's beliefs, attitudes and desires. It promotes a better public understanding of this role, as well as the sound and ethical conduct and use of public opinion research.