Does the increased number of cell phone-only households affect opinion polls?

Andy Radia
Canada Politics

The growing number of cell phone-only households in Canada has raised concerns over the accuracy of opinion polls.

According to, 13 per cent of Canadian households reported they used a cellular phone exclusively in 201o, up from eight per cent in 2008.

The cell phone-only demographic is particularly pronounced among households headed by younger Canadians. About 50 per cent of households in the 18-to-34 age bracket were using cell phones exclusively.

While some have singled out this phenomenon as a cause of the disparity in the opinion polls, polling companies told Yahoo! Canada News they have been able to account for this new reality.

"We typically don't include cell phone-only users in our telephone polling since lists of phone numbers and contact information for this group are hard to come by," said Ian Large, vice-president of Alberta for Leger Marketing.

"There are a few suppliers of cell phone number lists, but these tend to be expensive and cell phone-only users tend to not want to respond to surveys on the phone."

Large said one of the ways they "control" or account for cell phone-only usage is through Internet surveys.

"In Canada, more than 50 per cent of all research is now conducted online," he said.  "Within (our online) panel we have a portion who only have cell phones, so using this method we know we are representing this group in the same proportion they exist in the population."

Nik Nanos, from Nanos Research, told Yahoo! Canada News his company does call cell phone numbers to conduct surveys.

"Our objective is to get coverage of the entire population, including cell phone users," he said.

Nanos argues any disparity in the polls is a consequence of companies using different methodologies and being in the "field" at different times.

Pollsters in Canada do have an impressive track record - at least federally.

After the 2008 election, professor Andrew Heard of Simon FraserUniversity, analyzed opinion polls and illustrated Canada's Top 5 pollsters (Angus Reid, Nanos, Ekos, Harris/Decima, & Strategic Counsel) were only fractionally off  from their pre-election predictions.

(Reuters Photo)