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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

A word of caution

Just read the latest Charlie Cook column, which I think has some excellent cautionary advice for people who are getting a little too addicted to polls ...

But as a political handicapper, it is the uncertainties that haunt me in this race. There are massive, unprecedented numbers of new people registering to vote -- we don't really know who these people are, if they will vote and if so, for whom. We see extraordinary levels of interest being shown on the part of the sporadic, infrequent voters -- the folks that haven't shown up for a presidential election since 1992, for example -- so who are they and how will they vote? There are truly uniquely high levels of interest among young voters, a term that is normally an oxymoron, with 74 percent of college students nationwide telling pollsters for Harvard's Institute of Politics that they have discussed the election in the preceding 24 hours. The biggest controversy on campus when I was in school was when the pub was raising the price of beer from 25 cents to 35 cents per glass.

Finally, there is the issue of cell phones, with estimates ranging from as low as five or six percent to as high as eight or nine percent of all individual telephone subscribers having only cell phones and no land lines. It is against the law for a pollster to call a cell phone. While that means a large number of young people aren't being included in these poll samples, it is also true that pre-paid cell phones are rapidly becoming the primary way in which low-income people get telephone service, as many cannot qualify for the credit check required to get a land line.

Between the inadequacies of even the best survey research in really close races and these other factors, people can hope who will win this presidential race, but nobody really knows the outcome.