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How Cellphones Complicate Polling

October 11, 2013

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How Cellphones Complicate Polling

With this election, math again messed with the magic* in a media stalwart. Television pundits, usually with the authority left over from past political victories, turned out to be inferior seers compared to fast-moving analysts armed with a raft of polling data. The Times’s own Nate Silver appears to be the biggest winner of all.

But other math, abetted by technology, could mean trouble down the line for our prognosticating overlords. Traditional polling is getting more expensive and less reliable. The emerging online alternatives are promising, but they have problems of their own. Problems with the polls may also mean problems for the people who read them. (Nate Silver made a comparison of polling accuracy last week.)

The fundamental difficulty has to do with changes in phone technology and human habits. Much of the polling data you see comes…

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