No one answers the phone anymore. Back in the Clinton days, pollsters could collect voter opinions from about one in three calls. Today it is fewer than one in 11. Blame disappearing landlines — only 60 percent of U.S. households had one in 2013 — as well as cell-phone caller ID. Yet even as response rates plummet and costs of chasing mobile users soar, most data-driven election predictions still rely on phone-poll results. Even Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight models, which perfectly predicted 2012 presidential race outcomes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, hinge largely on phone surveys. So researchers are now hunting for alternative sources of voter data — and finding them in unlikely places.
At YouGov, volunteers answer online surveys in exchange for gift cards. When the New York Times and CBS News announced in July that they would rely on YouGov for the November midterm elections, traditional pollsters were aghast. Opt-in surveys break the cardinal rule of polling: respondents should be a random sample of the population. But the global polling firm claims its demographic profiles rival those of even the best phone polls.