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Case Not Closed

Okay, so you have half the answer. That's good but not great detective work. What explains the other half?

That's still a mystery, these researchers conclude.

Outlook
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Did somebody say "sequel"?

That army of cell phone voters that was supposed to sway the election for Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry showed up at the polls on Election Day -- but so did everyone else, muting their impact, according to exit polling.

Buried in the survey data is the answer to a critical question raised during the campaign about traditional telephone surveys. Critics of the pre-election polls claimed that some voters, including many young people, now use only cell phones and have abandoned household phone service.

That makes them unavailable to pollsters, who are prohibited by law from calling cell phone numbers. The problem is, there are scant studies measuring how many Americans, not to mention voters, rely exclusively on their cell phones, so it's difficult to judge the effect on the quality of the polls.

The exit pollsters cast new light on the issue by asking people leaving the voting booths about their phone service and use.

The good news for pollsters is that only 7 percent of all voters in 2004 were using cell phones as their sole service. The bad news is that this figure swelled to nearly 20 percent among voters between the ages of 18 and 29 years old.

Uh-oh. Not only are there lots of young people without household phone service, but these cell-phone-only voters voted 56 percent to 41 percent for Kerry, meaning missing them in telephone polls could produce polls that underestimated the Kerry vote.

But, happily, one other fact may have saved pollsters, at least during this campaign. Young people with cells were not much more likely to back Kerry than those in homes with traditional phone service only or those who had both cell and traditional service. So missing them wouldn't dramatically skew the results.

morinr@washpost.com


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