As Americans increasingly turn to mobile phones as their primary platform of communication, survey researchers must adapt with new methodologies to reach audiences no longer connected to landline telephones.

The latest numbers from the National Health Interview Survey show just how quickly households are becoming cellphone-only. According to the survey, 38.2 percent of American homes have only wireless telephones, and even 15.9 percent of households with landlines still receive all or most of their calls on wireless phones.

Political researchers have responded to this growing trend by increasing the number of interviews being conducted via cellphones in their surveys. But thanks to the current legal restrictions on the dialing of cellphones, including more mobile phones in survey research significantly increases the cost of conducting a poll.

So where do we go next? At Public Opinion Strategies, we’ve been experimenting with mobile surveys. App-based mobile survey research is at the forefront of new technology for reaching both consumers and voters. Conducting research through a mobile app offers an interactive experience for the respondent that’s not possible over the phone or even through online research. The application allows survey researchers to harness mobile device capabilities like touch screens, built-in cameras, and GPS positioning.

In conjunction with MFour Mobile Research, we recently conducted the first ever national political survey hosted entirely on mobile phones and tablets using MFour’s Surveys on the Go application. Surveys on the Go is a mobile app that allows users on iOS, Droid, or Mobile Web devices to respond to surveys sent directly to their devices.

Using this platform, Public Opinion Strategies interviewed 800 adults over the span of two days on a wide range of political topics from perceptions of the two major parties to immigration to the presidential aspirations of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The major advantages of app-based mobile survey research are threefold. First, it presents researchers with a new tool for interviewing harder to reach groups like younger voters and minority voters more quickly and more cost effectively.

Push notification abilities allow the app to collect hundreds of interviews over the span of a few hours, giving fast moving campaigns the ability to quickly gather important data. And since the app does not require an interviewer to individually dial a respondent’s mobile phone number this data collection comes at a fraction of the cost of standard mobile survey research.

The second major benefit of app-based mobile research lies in the technology. Researchers can collect datasets on this platform that can’t be collected via traditional polling. Among the application’s abilities: audio clip playback, audio recording, picture and video capture, heat map displays, and moment-to-moment video capture that performs in a manner similar to traditional video dials.

During our national mobile survey we applied heat map technology to photos of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail. The app allowed respondents to select the areas of the photograph that most caught their attention. Respondents were able to react viscerally and emotionally to a visual prompt, and it brought the most important aspects of the image into focus for analysis.

In another section of the survey we asked respondents to take a photo of a nearby item that most reminded them of the Republican Party, and then one that most reminded them of the Democratic Party. As one might expect, the majority of the images for each party had negative connotations—there were toilets and trash cans. But respondents in this section also demonstrated a high level of creativity. One photographed a Star Wars DVD cover. The message: Republicans represent the Dark Side. Another respondent submitted a picture of a vise and commented that Democrats are “squeezing the middle class.”

The third positive of the mobile survey application, and probably the area of biggest potential for political campaigns, is the ability to test various media formats across a statistically valid audience. Most campaign media is currently tested in qualitative focus group-style settings during which a handful of participants are asked to perform dial tests or evaluate print media. Using a mobile survey application you can test these same ads across hundreds of respondents and have hard quantitative data for analysis.

The potential exists to test print ads, mailers, campaign spokespeople, logos, radio ads, and video ads with hundreds of respondents before they are released. The multimedia advantages in particular set this tool apart from traditional telephone survey research.

Is mobile-based application survey research perfect? No. As one would expect from a survey conducted over smartphones and tablets, the audience skews younger than the normal likely voter population. Reaching older voters on a survey application is challenging, and like online research, you are limited to the panel of the application provider instead of a truly random sample.

However, these panels are rapidly expanding, and as Americans increasingly integrate their smartphones into all areas of their lives, the mobile survey application audience will only continue to grow.

For political researchers, the mobile survey application must be viewed as a new tool to supplement the current research being performed in the U.S. Is it the best methodology to take a quick snapshot of the ballot in a Congressional or Senate race? It’s not, but it does expand what researchers can offer in terms of media testing and reaching younger voters faster and more cost effectively than ever before.

Glen Bolger is a partner and cofounder of Public Opinion Strategies. A full report on the survey is available on the firm’s TQIA Blog.

Tags: Mobile, Polling