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"Please Stop Calling This Customer"

Topics: 2008 , IVR , IVR Polls , Push "Polls" , Response Rates , The 2008 Race

Washington Post polling director Jon Cohen reported an easily overlooked but important statistic yesterday, especially to anyone thinking about the reliability of the last round of Iowa polls. Using the Iowa tables here at pollster.com, he determined that public polls in Iowa this year have interviewed nearly 80,000 "likely caucus goer" respondents:

As a ratio of voters polled to expected turnout, this must be something of a record. (In 2004 about 120,000 people participated in the Democratic caucuses, and in 2000 about 90,000 in the GOP contest.)

And it's not just the public pollsters calling. Campaigns have been known to set up a phone bank or two to gauge opinion, solicit support and cajole voters to actually show up and spend hours caucusing in the middle of winter.

A month-and-a-half ago, already deep into the "silly season" but well before the final stretch, eight in 10 likely Democratic caucus goers and nearly six in 10 on the GOP side said they'd been called on the telephone by at least one of the campaigns. And Pew reported the pervasive use of robo-calls (though most Iowans who get such automated calls about the campaign said they usually hang up).

I can add two confirming anecdotes. The first comes from a comment left by "Randy Iowa" here at Pollster just last night:

Is there a Do Not Call list that i can get on? I have received a survey call everyday this week and at least one candidate has called everyday as well.

I emailed Randy, and sure enough, he is an Iowa voter. He says that "80%" of the calls he received were automated. Interestingly, he is also a non-affiliated voter (not registered with a party) registered independent who has never participated in a caucus (though has "voted Republican my entire life"). (By the way, the short answer to Randy is no. Pollsters and political campaigns are exempt from the federal do not call restrictions, though at least one group is trying to change that).

I wonder how many calls those identified as past caucus goers are getting? Here is one possible answer in he form of an email I received about an hour ago from a "help desk" operator at a major residential telephone company. He apparently assumed (mistakenly) that Pollster.com conducts surveys:

Subject: Please stop calling this customer

This customer is getting upwards of 20 calls a day from automated poll services, she lives in Iowa and her phone number is 563-[redacted]. Please stop calling her.

Not surprisingly, the recipient of the calls lives near Davenport Iowa.

Aside from spectacle of the sheer volume of "poll" calls, we might want to think about what all that calling is doing the the response rates the real pollsters are getting. And if pollsters are having a harder time getting voters to respond this week, are those suddenly reluctant voters skewing the results? We may never know, of course, but if nothing else, I would be very nervous were I using an automated (IVR) methodology to collect survey data in Iowa right now. More important: I wonder how many many Iowans have been ignoring their ringing phones altogether the last few days?

 

Comments
Mike Iowa:

I live in Des Moines. The key is just to ignore any calls made to my cell phone that are unknown numbers. I have been ignoring (515) area code number calls and screening basically all of my calls since October.

I'm kind of surprised no campaigns have tried to send out text messages to obvious cell phone numbers. Maybe that's a technology that'll have to wait until 2012.

It's possible that younger folks with cell phones might not be responding to as many calls/polls, which in my opinion would under-represent Obama voters. I guess we'll see in a few days, right?

Keep up the good work on the site.

____________________

Thomas Riehle:

A couple of weeks ago, a Sioux City, IA friend told me that he and some of his old-time Democratic activist pals were trying to call each other to arrange a place to meet for dinner, and were thwarted. Every time one hung up to try to call another one of the friends, the phone would ring with a call from a campaign. It took forever to fight through the thicket of inbound calls to make the arrangements. I told him, "Tough luck. IA asked for this..."

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JK:

In the future, something like GrandCentral.com (now in beta testing) might come in handy for blocking unknown calls or sending them straight to voicemail.

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Chuck :

And how many people want their holidays interrupted by repeated phone calls from pollsters or campaigns?

Either they don't answer or leave town.

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willie:

Mark,

This is a subject I've thought about before. As calls, particularly automated calls, get cheaper and cheaper more campaigns are using them. Now, most state house and some local races are now using auto-calls.

Add to this the emergence of predictive dialers in this last cycle and I think that we will soon be on the verge of a serious problem when it comes to voters answering their phones during the last few months of campaign season.

I know that every election for the last few decades the voters get "sick of all these darned political calls," but with the barriers to entry so low with robo-calls, IVR polls, and predictive dialers, every campaign in the world will be using them. Could we reach a tipping point here?

Thoughts?

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Dwight McCabe:

In direct marketing, we found out long ago that too many contacts of our target group will depress response rates. In the old days, the cost of direct mail and phone calls usually limited that, although I know from personal experience several large corporations that still inundate their best customers with contacts.

Now that the electronic media have made contacts so cheap as to be almost free, its gotten much worse. Unthinking marketers vastly overused email and quickly wore out their welcome. I'm sad to hear that the cost of IVR is coming down to the point where it will happen there too.

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Me, too: I'm an Iowan who lives in a small town in the SE part of the state. For some weeks now, we've been ignoring calls from numbers we don't recognize if they're from out of our area code or the caller has suppressed his/her name.
And I'm an Obama backer who will be at my caucus.

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