The media play a unique role in our lives.  The proliferation of public opinion polls on television, newspapers and Internet may be shaping our views, or even perhaps eroding credibility in the poll results.  Which polls are legitimate and use a scientific sampling base?  Which polls are simply used to collect personal information to be used for future sales or other type of follow-up?  Which polls are used to sway our thinking about a particular issue or candidate?  The questions abound.

The media often relies on poll information as the basis for many of their articles and news releases.  This being an election year, the general public will again be surveyed.  Are respondents ready and willing to respond?  How have polls shaped the attitudes of the general public towards polls? How much credence do polls really have in the minds of the general public?   We will share some results and insights on this topic from a recent CMOR study.

In the Respondent Cooperation and Industry Image study conducted in May 2003, respondents were asked about their attitudes about survey and polls.  The study conducted 500 telephone interviews from a random digit national sample, and collected 500 Internet surveys drawn from a nationally representative panel.

Comparisons between 2003 and 2001 indicate that the positive attributes of the survey research industry are declining, while negative perceptions are increasing, but only slightly.   In the telephone survey portion, statements about surveys providing an opportunity to provide feedback on public policy issues (but still ranks highly with 60% agreement), serving a useful purpose, and that answering questions is in the respondent’s best interest, all dropped an average of 5%.

Overall, Internet respondents had more positive and less negative attitudes toward the research industry, compared to the RDD telephone respondents, but their responses also show a decline compared to 2001.  The differences may be a result of the fact that Internet respondents were generally younger and better educated than telephone respondents, and are becoming more savvy about what are legitimate “surveys and polls” on the Internet.  Internet respondents showed a 10% drop in response to the statement about survey research firms maintaining confidentiality of people’s answers compared to 2001, and now match the response of telephone respondents. Confidentiality appears to be an issue regardless of demographic or survey mode.

TV/newspaper stories about opinion poll results and market research surveys seem to be of more interest to Internet respondents than telephone respondents.  However, when it comes to politics, Internet respondents are less likely than telephone respondents to agree that polls predict winners.  Internet respondents indicated that they pay less attention to polls than telephone respondents, yet trust the results more.

Despite the differences between telephone and Internet respondents, will they be willing to participate to the upcoming political polls and surveys, or will they be more resistant because of the potential increase in poll results and media stories?   We’ll have to wait and see.

The increased use of the Internet may actually have helped to create a more positive attitude about polls because of its ability to allow respondents to participate at their convenience, create more visually appealing poll documents, and often provide instantaneous reporting of results.  However, there is also the danger of unscientific online surveys and polls may call into question the results, and obscure the legitimate public opinion polls on serious issues.

Telephone polls will continue to be challenged with numerous obstacles, including the inability to provide the same type of stimuli as the Internet.  But these are not the only issues.  Gaining cooperation among certain demographic groups such as those more educated, males, or the older population will continue to provide addition challenges to telephone polling, as well as the increase in various telephone screening devices.    

The mood and attitudes of the country have changed especially with various laws and legislation that have been highly publicized, such as the Do Not Call list, and the anti-spam issues.  Although these laws and legislation pertain to sales-related activities and not research related activities, the general public may not be fully aware of these differences.  Conducting legitimate surveys and polls will become increasingly more challenging in these days of lack of trust and concern for confidentiality.  Therefore, it is the goal of CMOR, as it conducts and reports industry studies, to understand how attitudinal changes will affect the survey and polling industry.  These study results, along with CMOR’s up-to-the-minute legislative information, should provide researchers with the tools necessary to make informed decisions about how to conduct effective surveys and polls.  Polling season is nearing.  What have you done with your surveys and polls to ensure that respondents will be ready and willing to participate?