Smartphone Penetration & The Future of Polling

by | Nov 9, 2022

Polling needs people.  More precisely, survey modes used in polling need to be able to reach sufficient numbers of their target groups to claim to be representative.  Assessing the opinions of too few people, or of too limited a demographic group, fails to offer the kind of comprehensive insight needed to make credible deductions or robust decisions.       


Polls that rely on enumerators – people interviewing other people – can often struggle to reach important segments of the population.  People may be out at work, be unwilling to talk to a stranger, or simply may be based in locations too difficult and costly to reach.  


Telephone campaigns are increasingly struggling to receive responses.  Opt-in internet panels, which were developed to combat the constraints of a landline, lack rigorous quality control.  They are also at risk of being swamped by responses from un-representative groups, notably political activists with too vested an interest in the overall result, as one American pollster explained in a recent interview.


Problems like these are exacerbated in the developing world.  Landline penetration is limited, not least because the rapid advance of mobile technology renders traditional telephones unnecessary.  Monitoring enumerators in far-flung parts of the world, moreover, is impractical, expensive, and uncertain.  A handful of interviewers will only be able to speak to a relatively small number of people, unless their time is unlimited.  


Harnessing the smartphone may offer one way to overcome the constraints of conventional survey modes.  The world is more networked than ever before, with affordable smartphones reaching more and more people in previously remote locations.  Can smartphone polling offer robust insights on sentiment trends among populations hitherto hard to reach?  


To investigate this, we asked ourselves what proportion of the enfranchised population of Nigeria could conceivably have access to a smartphone.  The Alliance of Affordable Internet estimates that 44.4% of all Nigerians have access to a smartphone.  This figure, however, does not tell us how many Nigerians of voting age (18 and over) could have a smartphone.  


Some simple mathematics, using the most reliable statistics to hand, gave us the answer.


Nigeria’s population is 218.5 million.  It is a very young country, with 0-12 year-olds numbering 83.6 million.  We assume that those aged 12 and under do not have smartphones.  Using the figure of 44.4%, we therefore found that 97 million Nigerians aged over 12 have smartphones.  


The question now becomes one of determining the number of non-voting age teenagers who have access to a smartphone compared to the enfranchised population.  A recent doctoral study found that approximately 60% of under-18s have smartphones.  The number of Nigerians aged between 12 and 18 is 23.3 million; 60% of this figure is 15.8 million.


Once we subtract 15.8 million from the 97 million Nigerians who have access to a smartphone, we find that a total of 81.2 million Nigerians of voting-age could conceivably be polled via their smartphones.


This is a huge figure.  But it could become less significant if it actually represents a small proportion of the enfranchised population.


As previously noted, however, Nigeria’s population is greatly skewed towards the young.  Its median age is 18.1.  Over-18s number 109.8 million.  Once we express the 81.2 million Nigerians who have access to a smartphone as a proportion of total over-18s, we can credibly estimate that 73.9% of voting-age Nigerians have smartphones.


This now makes a considerable absolute figure of potentially great significance for polling purposes.  Being able, in theory at least, to survey the sentiments of 73.9% of Nigerian voters, however we would want to sample them, is simply game-changing.  The pace of technological change and the manifold flexibility of an app-based poll, combined with the raft of quality control measures that can be built into it – from automatic location verification to speeding checks – looks to make smartphone polling the future. 


The penetration of smartphones into countries like Nigeria will only grow.  Overall penetration across the Sahel is set to reach 66% by 2025, part of a global trend which will see smartphone usage top 7 billion in the next two years.  Given that some of the data upon which we have based our estimate is a little dated, our figure of 73.9% of enfranchised Nigerians being open to smartphone polling could already be too modest a reflection of reality. 


The future, it seems, may already be here. 


 *Please click here to download a summarized one-pager. 

About Premise:

Premise offers crowdsourced information from real people on the ground in hard-to-reach places. Over five million people in 140 countries are using the Premise app on their smartphones, enabling our customers to monitor a situation over time and employ a data-driven approach to timely decision-making. To learn more about Premise, watch our tech demo or get in touch with us.