Cell phone gap leaves college students out of ‘08 presidential polling figures

Spinnaker

November 4 is drawing near.

On that day, the fates of Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain will be decided in what many consider a pivotal election for the U.S.

Pollsters around the country are painting pictures of the developing horse race and the media is filled with tales of who is ahead and who is behind.

Yet as the country looks to its pollsters for answers, experts have pinpointed a potential flaw in the system – they call it the “cell phone gap.”

A 2006 National Health Interview Survey showed that nearly 13 percent of households are “wireless only” and, therefore, impossible for pollsters to reach.

Thousands of potential voters are uncalled and therefore unrepresented in poll results.

“Not reaching such a huge base of people can really skew the polls,” said David Boston, a political science senior and president of the UNF College Democrats. “It’s a big deal. These polls will really affect the way people think leading into the election.”

The effects of this dilemma have yet to be seen, and it’s not entirely clear which candidate, if either, will benefit from the cell phone gap. But many experts agree that college students might play a huge and unexpected role in the upcoming election.

That’s because college-age students are a large portion of the “wireless-only” population, with more 90 percent of college students using cell phones, according to a study by Ball State University

While the potential power of these uncounted votes is unknown, most liberals and conservatives agree on the candidate most likely to earn these votes in November.

“Most students would probably vote for Obama,” said James Cima, senior exercise science major and vice president of the UNF College Republicans. “It’s trendy to be liberal in college these days.”

Despite the gap in polling, Matthew Corrigan, chair of the Political Science Department at UNF, believes the current polling is trustworthy.

“The exact percentages are always off, but polling is reliable for the overall direction of the vote,” Corrigan said. “The cell phone gap would contribute to the numbers but not in a major way. Maybe by one or two percentage points.”

The fight on campuses for those percentage points has begun across the country. At UNF, student Republicans and Democrats have both been campaigning to win the valuable student vote.

“Time is on our side,” said Boston, who has been recruiting votes for Obama around campus. “There are many people out there looking to make the right decision. We talk to everybody, and hope to hit the right people.”

The College Republicans have taken a more “pro-active” approach to spreading their message around campus, Cima said.

“We don’t hand out flyers, we go do things,” Cima said. “We’re in a lot of organizations and try to have an influence on the school. Our party focuses on taking responsibility.”

On the UNF campus and schools across the country, students are spreading knowledge and recruiting undecided voters.

The only question remaining is if students will actually vote.

E-mail Andrew Zangre at [email protected]