Pew just released some new data on the declining response rate for telephone-based opinion surveys.
Everything from contact rates to cooperation rates to response rates are on the decline. From 2009 to 2012 the drop in response rates was particularly significant at 40%, the highest drop since they presented data over a span of 15 years. Even when Pew set out to really try and persuade people to respond by 1) using interviewers “particularly skilled at persuading reluctant respondents” 2) calling non-respondents 15-25 times over a period of two months 3) sending advance letters 4) and offering financial incentives of up to $20, the response rates were still only 22%.
Said Pew of these developments:
It has become increasingly difficult to contact potential respondents and to persuade them to participate.
Despite the low response rates, which might lead many to question the validity of results derived from such surveys, there is some good news. Pew said:
…telephone surveys that include landlines and cell phones and are weighted to match the demographic composition of the population continue to provide accurate data on most political, social and economic measures.
On a practical level Pew refers to the National Council on Public Polls which monitors polling for national and state elections and publishes analyses of how accurate polls are compared to the actual results of elections. Pew highlights “the consistent record of accuracy achieved by major polls when it comes to estimating election outcomes, among other things” as an indication that polling is still a useful method of public opinion research. However there are still biases that appeared in the analyses Pew did given the probability that telephone survey respondents are more engaged in civic activity than non-respondents.
The Pew study is worth reading for anyone who does polling or relies on polling. I think their efforts to test the validity of their results is a testament to the work that Pew does in maintaining a rigorous and methodologically sound research operation. Not everyone who does polling has the time, resources or wherewithal to go through the same level of rigorous testing, which makes the problem of landline bias and cell phone adoption an ongoing problem for pollsters (see here, here and here)
I also spent a few minutes reading the comments posted on various sites that covered this latest Pew Study.
Humbug on HuffingtonPost said:
Kimber, a Huffington Post super user said:
This is probably a good thing! I’d love to see an election not based upon the breathless regurgitation of poll numbers by the media. I’d love to see an election where they weren’t biasing the outcome by telling us what it is going to be two weeks before the election. All of this polling is just dumbing down both the electorate and the candidates; to he!! with polls.
As for me, I don’t ever answer my land line unless the caller states who they are and why they are calling. You never know who’s on there - can be a robocall, somebody asking for money, a pollster or somebody I just don’t want to talk to. I’m surprised anybody ever answers a phone anymore.
CS30109 over at Slate said:
People are much less likely to favor cuts to U.S. foreign aid spending if told ahead of time that it makes up just 1 percent of the federal budget. (The average voter believes it’s more like 25 percent.)
Rocket88 at Slate said:
Here’s why I never respond to any polls, customer satisfaction surveys, etc.: there’s nothing in it for me. Seriously, what are they going to offer me that’s worth 15 minutes of my time? That’s worth $75 to other people. Instead they offer to put me in a drawing for a free cup of coffee, and in the meantime get my email address and otherwise intrude on my privacy. Or they offer nothing at all.
(Oh, and they’re only surveying old people and rural folk anyhow. Seriously, who has a landline in the 21st century?)
There are a lot more but these are instructive in making a few points that we here at Votifi feel strongly about:
1) People want to have their opinions counted and their voices heard. It matters in a democracy that people are able to express their opinions. It may have been the case years ago that the best way to do this is to write a letter to an editor of a newspaper, or pen a letter to an elected official. Times have clearly changed. I can (and regularly do) instantly broadcast my views and opinions over social networks and through all sorts of other digital medium. Little, if any of this rich data is captured by polls in a meaningful way.
2) If given the chance to be more informed about an issue, the results of polling people may be more accurate and less subjective or influenced by partisanship.
3) The incentives in polling seem to be out of kilter. Polling companies take a lot of my time and personal information but do not have much to offer me in exchange. Why should I participate in a poll when there is nothing in it for me? Why can’t I see the results, engage with other poll takers, and educate myself about the issues that are raised in the survey?