The New America: A New Look at the Cell Phone Nation


America: The Cell Phone Outlook in 2013

The newest National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released in June 2013 shows a snapshot of a new America trending more and more toward cell phone ownership and cell phone exclusivity in their communications habits.The research was conducted in the final 6 months of 2012.

Among American adults, 36.5% are Cell Phone Only (CPO) – meaning they only have a cell phone for their personal use – and 18% of adults are Cell Phone Mostly (CPM) – meaning that while they have a landline, they use their cell phone always or almost always.

Demographically and geographically, these CPO adults look very different than those who are dual users (have both a cell phone and landline in their home), or landline only individuals:

Geographically, CPO adults are more likely to be from the Midwest, South or West than the Northeast. Demographically, CPO adults are more likely to be:

  • Under 35 years old
  • Non-white (over 50% of Hispanic/Latinos are CPO)
  • Renting their home/apartment
  • Employed or going to school
  • More likely to be a current smoker, and engage in heavy alcohol consumption

Two interesting trend lines that are developing in this report:

1) While CPO usership has grown since 2009 (from 21.1% to 36.5%) and continues to grow at a rate of 2-3% every 6 months, the CPM usership has mostly stagnated during the same time period (16.2% in 2009 to 18% at the end of 2012). This may indicate that cell phone service has improved to a level that many do not have a need for a landline. It also may indicate that as the technology of phones improves (especially in light of the 2013 Nielsen report showing smartphones now much more popular than feature phones2), those who were CPM or dual users are moving to CPO and those younger Americans do not have a need for a landline phone and immediately become CPO.

2) The second interesting finding is the differential between adults, 18+, who are CPO versus children under 18 who are living in CPO households. In the below graph, while 36.5% of adults are CPO, 45% of children are living in wireless only households. A possible explanation for this is that as younger adults begin to have children, they are less likely than the previous generation to have a landline, and are more comfortable with their cell phone than having both a landline and cell or just a landline phone.

2012 Election Cycle in Review

In 2012, while many national pollsters correctly predicted President Obama's popular majority and strong electoral victory, many Republican pollsters incorrectly predicted Mitt Romney would be our next president – some incorrectly predicting that feat by wide margins. One of the causes of that inaccuracy was the inability of many pollsters to correctly understand the attitudes of the cell phone electorate and the quantity they constituted in the 2012 electorate.

However, Democracy Corps and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research were ranked most accurate of all national pollsters in the 2012 election4 – correctly predicting the margin of President Obama's victory within 0.05%.

Following the 2012 election, the Republican National Committee held a polling summit with Republican pollsters to review the inaccuracies of their polling in the lead up to the election. One of the RNC recommendations was to implement a standard minimum level of cell phones for all states at 25%5. Time will tell if that solution will result in more accurate polling data for future elections.

2016 In Focus

Because cell phones are more difficult to dial (based on the Telecommunication Consumer Protection Act, cell phones cannot be automatically dialed by a computer in the same way that landline sample can be dialed6), this results in costs ranging from 1.25-2 times as expensive to conduct a cell phone interview than a landline interview of the same survey length.

As we approach 2016, that cost ratio is expected to decrease as cellular penetration increases (cellular penetration at of US adults 90% currently7), which will lead to lower costs and higher percentages of cell phones conducted per survey.

Looking ahead to 2016, cell phones will continue to play an increasing role in the political survey research. The question is: to what extent and what other methodologies will play a role in future election survey predictions?

The GQRR Difference

While some researchers may provide a standard cell phone percentage for every survey, here at GQRR, we take a unique approach on determining the correct level of cell phones at a state-by-state, district-by-district level, by tirelessly researching cell phone statistics, NHIS metadata, census and voterfile demographic variables and geographic characteristics. This applies to national, statewide, congressional districts and other sub-state survey data, so we can provide our clients the most accurate, actionable data in the research industry.

To learn more, please contact info@gqrr.com or call (202) 478-8300.

Written by GQR Director of Research Operations Adam Slater.

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[1] CDC: Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, July-December 2012, p1. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/wireless201306.pdf

[2] Nielsen Newswire “Mobile Majority: U.S. Smartphone Ownership tops 60%” Conducted March-May 2013. Published June, 6, 2013. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/newswire/2013/mobile-majority--u-s--smartphone-ownership-tops-60-.html

[3] CDC: Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, July-December 2012, p1. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/wireless201306.pdf

[4] Democracy Corps: In the News, Published November 15, 2012. http://www.democracycorps.com/News/

[5] NBC News: GOP report calls for sweeping reforms to compete in 2016, March 18, 2013. http://firstread.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/18/17351259-gop-report-calls-for-sweeping-reforms-to-compete-in-2016?lite

[6] Federal Communications Commission Telephone Consumer Protection Act 47 U.S.C.

[7] CDC: Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, July-December 2012, p6. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhis/earlyrelease/wireless201306.pdf

Image Credit: From Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Smart_phone.jpg)