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Monday, May 28, 2012

Problems of the Survey Research Profession

News organizations are also producers of survey research or clients of organizations that do. As my colleagues in the Project for Excellence in Journalism have documented, journalism does not have an audience problem - it has a money problem. Even as the audience for mainstream news organizations has remained stable or even grown, revenues have plummeted
Another problem we confront is that financial pressures in higher education have led to the closing of some university-based survey research centers, and significant challenges to those that remain in business. By all accounts, most of the centers are responding well to these challenges, but not all are. As higher education has had to retrench due to declining state support and other pressures, centers have increasingly become dependent on external funding.
Even if the ACS [the Census Bureau's American Community Survey] is not killed, deep cuts in the bureau's budget loom, along with the elimination of the mandatory requirement for the ACS. If these happen, data quality will suffer. Budget cuts also are threatening other projects at Census, and in the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis
If we edge away from the probability model as we explore the new frontier, we must keep an eye on how well we are representing populations that aren't as present on the internet, Facebook, Twitter or the commercial and credit databases that can be mined for insights.
In research that my colleagues at the Pew Internet and American Life Project did with Verba and his colleagues, online forms of participation were found to increase the percentage of young people engaged in certain political acts. But the broader takeaway was that the same biases we see in traditional outlets of participation - voting, working for a campaign, communicating with public officials - are still present online. Even though more young people are doing these things, the better educated and more affluent are overrepresented among the activists. As a consequence, substituting analysis of online political participation for survey-based measures will come with a bias toward the better educated and more affluent.