The typical Pew Research Center for the People & the Press national survey selects a random digit sample of both landline and cell phone numbers in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. As the proportion of Americans who rely solely or mostly on cell phones for their telephone service continues to grow, sampling both landline and cell phone numbers helps to ensure that our surveys represent all adults who have access to either (only about 2% of households do not have access to any phone). We sample landline and cell phone numbers to yield a combined sample with approximately 50% of the interviews conducted by landline and 50% by cell phone. This ratio is based on an analysis that attempts to balance cost and fieldwork considerations as well as to improve the overall demographic composition of the sample (in terms of age, race/ethnicity and education). This ratio also ensures a minimum number of cell only respondents in each survey.
The design of the landline sample ensures representation of both listed and unlisted numbers (including those not yet listed) by using random digit dialing. This method uses random generation of the last two digits of telephone numbers selected on the basis of the area code, telephone exchange, and bank number. A bank is defined as 100 contiguous telephone numbers, for example 800-555-1200 to 800-555-1299. The telephone exchanges are selected to be proportionally stratified by county and by telephone exchange within the county. That is, the number of telephone numbers randomly sampled from within a given county is proportional to that county’s share of telephone numbers in the U.S. Only banks of telephone numbers containing three or more listed residential numbers are selected.
The cell phone sample is drawn through systematic sampling from dedicated wireless banks of 100 contiguous numbers and shared service banks with no directory-listed landline numbers (to ensure that the cell phone sample does not include banks that are also included in the landline sample). The sample is designed to be representative both geographically and by large and small wireless carriers.
Both the landline and cell samples are released for interviewing in replicates, which are small random samples of the larger sample. Using replicates to control the release of telephone numbers ensures that the complete call procedures are followed for the entire sample. The use of replicates also ensures that the regional distribution of numbers called is appropriate. This also works to increase the representativeness of the sample.
When interviewers reach someone on a landline phone, they randomly ask half the sample if they could speak with “the youngest male, 18 years of age or older, who is now at home” and the other half of the sample to speak with “the youngest female, 18 years of age or older, who is now at home.” If there is no person of the requested gender at home, interviewers ask to speak with the youngest adult of the opposite gender. This method of selecting respondents within each household improves participation among young people who are often more difficult to interview than older people because of their lifestyles.
Unlike a landline phone, a cell phone is assumed in Pew Research polls to be a personal device. Interviewers ask if the person who answers the cell phone is 18 years of age or older to determine if they are eligible to complete the survey (also see Cell phones for more information). This means that, for those in the cell sample, no effort is made to give other household members a chance to be interviewed. Although some people share cell phones, it is still uncertain whether the benefits of sampling among the users of a shared cell phone outweigh the disadvantages.