Consequences of Reducing Nonresponse in a National Telephone Survey

Critics of public opinion polls often claim that methodological shortcuts taken to collect timely data produce biased results. This study compares two random digit dial national telephone surveys that used identical questionnaires but very different levels of effort: a “Standard” survey conducted over a 5-day period that used a sample of adults who were home when the interviewer called, and a “Rigorous” survey conducted over an 8-week period that used random selection from among all adult household members. Response rates, computed according to AAPOR guidelines, were 60.6 percent for the Rigorous and 36.0 percent for the Standard study. Nonetheless, the two surveys produced similar results. Across 91 comparisons, no difference exceeded 9 percentage points, and the average difference was about 2 percentage points. Most of the statistically significant differences were among demographic items. Very few significant differences were found on attention to media and engagement in politics, social trust and connectedness, and most social and political attitudes, including even those toward surveys.