A Land Line Only Poll? How Quaint!

May 23, 2010 by

This morning on Twitter I saw a lot of conversation about a streetcar poll done by the Cincinnati Enquirer. In it they kick off with the following statement [Poll: Most Oppose Streetcars]:

Residents of Cincinnati overwhelmingly oppose the proposed $128 million streetcar project, objecting 2-to-1 to City Hall’s plan to borrow tens of millions of dollars for a plan widely viewed as a waste of taxpayer money, an Enquirer poll shows.

Okay, so it’s a poll. A telephone poll. A telephone poll that only called people with land lines. Hmmm….

That would have all been well and good a decade or two ago, but with an ever increasing array of people ditching landlines and going exclusively cellular its validity is highly questionable. I have not had a landline since 2005 and know many others like myself.

Let’s see what the Pew Research Center has to say about that divide, after all they deal with number and polling every day [How Serious is Polling’s Cell Only Problem] :

While the cell-only problem is currently not biasing polls based on the entire population, it may very well be damaging estimates for certain subgroups in which the use of only a cell phone is more common. This concern is particularly relevant for young adults. According to the most recent government estimate, more than 25% of those under age 30 use only a cell phone. An analysis of young people ages 18-25 in one of the Pew polls found that the exclusion of the cell-only respondents resulted in significantly lower estimates of this age group’s approval of alcohol consumption and marijuana use. Perhaps not surprisingly, excluding the cell-only respondents also yields lower estimates of technological sophistication. For example, the overall estimate for the proportion of 18-25 year olds using social networking sites is 57% when the cell-only sample is blended with the landline sample, while the estimate based only on the landline sample is 50%.

I’m in my mid forties and more than half of my friends and colleagues have no land line. I’m not talking kids here , I’m talking about technology professionals ranging from early 30s to late 50s. Since a lot of the comments on the poll include people talking about cell phone only households being just kids I feel obligated to point that out.

So this is a survey of 600 people out of over 300,000. One five hundredth of the population as a representative sample. Hmmm….

Next let’s take a look at  John Schneider’s post on the UrbanOhio forums:

Just got off the phone with someone who knows a lot about polling. He says the Enquirer is really parsing the results of this poll.

Here’s the gist of his take: 24% of Cincinnatians think it will revitalize the city’s core, while another 20% say its a risky project but that it ought to be built. That’s 44%. Another 48% think it’s a waste. He says for a project that’s not built, which the public understands very little because they have nothing to compare it to, being only four points down in the poll is pretty good. Plus 7% are not sure. And there’s a 4% margin of error.

Here’s another thing that pops out at me: 19% of Cincinnatians think they would use the streetcar almost every day. Besides water, sewers and streets, do you think 19% of Cincinnatians can name another City of Cincinnati service they expect to use every day. I can’t.

Someone wrote me earlier: “Looks like the Enquirer has declared war on the streetcar.”

Wanting to get some info of my own I looked to our local voices on twitter. Here are a few of them:

margyartgrrl good survey design is key –@cincienquirer has bad ordering and framing of questions; poor design on answer options.
kate_the_great We’ve had convos in my office about these polls and how they skew the audience b.c so many people now landline-less. No brainer
RandySimes Kind of the same. Here it was when the Enquirer decided to appeal to northern ‘burbs by trashing city.
CinNewTon It would be nice if the old guard in Cincy would stop & consider the future instead of worrying about the past.
LivingInGin Enquirer probably conducted the poll via telegraph, so only Tom Luken’s nursing home companions could respond.
Kate_The_Great (again) While I was napping: great twitter convo about polls via telephone re: streetcar. Y’all are spot on. Landline= flawed BC narrow audience.
[Since many twitter users don’t seem to have landlines I would like to note that is in no way an accurate or representative poll. ]

If we are going to get anything done in this town we need to make sure that we have access to correct data. Now I’ve heard that the results of this poll are widely at variance with prior polls they have done on the subject but I have to head out the door so I don’t have time to data-mine. Anybody out there have any links supporting or disproving this? I’d love to see them turn up in the comments section.

So what are your thoughts? I see a bad case of flawed methodology in execution of the poll. Bad data.

-Loki, Founder and Publisher

Image: David.nikonvscannon / Rights: CC 2.0


  1. Loki

    Looks like things are heating up, UrbanCincy just chimed in with a scathing excoriation of Enquirer attempts to appeal to the suburban demographic at the expense of the urban core. He is calling for a full and complete boycott of Cincinnnati.com and the print edition.

    Very interesting reading and an essential aspect of the overall conversation.


  2. There was a poll circulated around UC last summer that basicly asked “the streetcar will be a failure because” and gave 3 different choices. Peoples opinions hardly fit these cookie cutter polls.
    Oh and I’m closing in fast on old age, neither me nor any of my friends have had telephones for years.

  3. Loki you are spot on with your analysis of telephone surveys. I have helped conduct several surveys for public involvement efforts and even studied quantitative research methods in college. With that said, no survey method is flawless and they do cite the shortcomings of using a telephone survey in the methodology portion of the report done by SurveyUSA.

    I am just growing concerned about this track record at the Cincinnati Enquirer. I started UrbanCincy because of this sort of thing, and while things have improved nominally, the issue is still there. It seems obvious to me that the Enquirer leadership does not care about their city readership and that they have placed their bets on a suburban clientele. If that’s how they want to play it, then I say we actually start to play ball.

  4. Loki

    My tolerance for that sort of bias in reporting evaporated the day the New Orleans levees failed. It’s also why I look to multilple sources on any story.

  5. I don’t want to get off topic, but what has happened to New Orleans in the 21st Century is an absolute crime against humanity. The city and its people are treated like second-class citizens. It’s disgusting.

  6. Another Cincinnatian here without a landline. With respect to Pew Research Center’s comment on the problem, it’s worth noting that Cincinnati has a lower median age than other cities in Ohio and the US at about 31 years old.

    Anecdotally, exactly ZERO of my friends have landline phones at home.
    Then again, people who actually get their news a day late on physical paper are likely to have the opposite experience.

  7. Loki

    Thanks Randy. I agree. Sometime I’ll tell you some stories.

    Here’s a piece from our sister site HumidCity about the current BP disaster. Would love your comments. http://humidcity.com/?p=3250

  8. Loki

    @Paul Thanks for that! To back it up here is the quote from the wikipedia entry on Cincinnati:

    “The age distribution was 24.5% under the age of 18, 12.9% from 18 to 24, 31.6% from 25 to 44, 18.7% from 45 to 64, and 12.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32 years”

    It seems they are skewing things more than I thought.

  9. CincyCapell

    I live in the City in Covedale. I have a landline just in case of an emergency but keep the ringer turned off. Anyone who I care to speak with would call me on my cell. This poll was pure BS.

  10. classicgrrl

    You can now vote on the poll online and see how your answer stacks up.
    As of today at 12:00:

    53% say its a waste of money
    36% state it will help
    difference in votes is 268 votes

    39% approve borrowing money
    57% disapprove
    difference of 277 votes

    36% say it will never get built
    43% say it will
    difference of 85 votes

    Seems to be more evenly split now that the online option is open.

    The real question that hasn’t been asked or answered is how much of the landline poll was conducted within the 45202 zip code? THAT would be true transparency.

    All we know is 600 adults within the city of Cincinnati were polled via landline telephone between 05/18/10 and 05/19/10. This is not enough information about the sample.

  11. Chris Nascimento

    I was extremely disappointed, but not surprised. The story was polarizing and misleading. The poll indicates it was taken from residents of the City of Cincinnati, but didn’t indicate from where. Also, it did not indicate it was a random survey. I don’t believe that COAST has that many members, but how where these “citizens” selected? Did they get a list of “citizens” to talk to that are members of COAST?

    I noted in the online version, the Enquirer has an ongoing poll as well. If this is a sample of the questions that were asked of those who were called, it’s not the greatest of polls.

    For example, question 2 is “How often would you personally ride a streetcar that went between the University of Cincinnati and downtown?” To those unfamiliar with the planned routes, they have no knowledge of any of the great places this will go by, to or the benefit in having it. They simply see this as something to provide transportation from downtown somewhere around Fountain Square to UC, which is misleading and limiting.

    Questions #4 is as follows: “Once the streetcar line is built, should most of the money needed to operate the streetcar come from:

    -Rider fares
    -A tax assessment along the route
    -Local businesses
    -The city’s general fund
    -Not sure”

    This overlooks the possibility of additional tax revenue to help cover it just from increased property values, increased taxes from additional jobs created around the line, or additional income from tax revenue that will come in based on additional sales and services. It’s a very limiting question. Other questions seem to be a bit leading or limited in options for the multiple choice answers.

    For those who doubt the benefit this would bring, research it. But don’t do it from in front of your TV’s or listening to talk radio. Go to places that have a street car, or light rail and try it. See the difference it makes, the jobs it creates, the population density it builds for yourself.

    If you are uncertain about the neighborhoods it would serve, go see them for yourself! But don’t just briefly drive through, you’ll never get to no them. Stop. Get out of your cars. Walk around, talk to people, eat in a few of the great restaurants, have drink at one of the great night spots, check out the shops. If you still disagree with the Streetcar, then at least you have an informed opinion based upon your experiences. I will still disagree with you, but at least I can respect you. I can’t say the same if you base your opinions on rumors & innuendo from the uninformed or because you benefit financially from investments in companies with contracts to widen roads or develop land in Warren County.

    It’s common sense. Don’t just listen to media. Don’t just listen to me. Go out, experience these things and find out for yourself just how great it could be. Consider the increase tax income being created without any additional tax increase. This is generated simply by the great population density being created, the additional jobs created, and more people spending more money on services and goods within the region because they want to. Think to the additional tax revenue generated just by the appreciation of existing properties-their values will go up. It makes good fiscal sense to build the streetcar.

  12. Chris Nascimento

    One more thing. Where are these “polls” on other expenditures? I need to share a couple of great examples Greg Harris shared this morning via Twitter:

    RT@GregHarrisCincy: $110 mil to fix mere 8 miles of pavement from Cincy-Dayton Road to Warren/Montgomery county line? I’m outraged! Poll me!
    about 3 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone

    RT @GregHarrisCincy: Can the Enquirer poll me about my opinion on the $30 million being spent on the SR 73 Bypass?
    about 3 hours ago via Twitter for iPhone


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