Guest column: Don't hang up on pollsters


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

The University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll is preparing to go into the field this November. Because there aren’t many terribly important election races to follow this year, some may be hesitant to assign any value to the results. However, it is arguably more important in off years for the academic community to gather research data than it is during election years.

Given the lack of attention paid to politics in years without major statewide or national elections, social-science researchers are able to add questions to this year’s survey they would not otherwise be able to focus attention on. This year, students and faculty members are including questions pertinent to dissertation work, ongoing research papers, as well as material valuable for in-class instruction.  

Political-science classes at the university are including questions about various topics such as views on genetically modified organisms in food, government spending and budget items, gun-control policy, privacy concerns, and national security. Graduate students are gathering data on several research projects with topics as varied as abortion rights, rural/local politics, judicial politics, and the effect of religion on political participation. 

Some professors in the Political-Science Department will also include questions for classroom presentations.

Survey data can offer important insight into research questions posed by scientists. However, it is critical to have a receptive population willing to participate. When someone calls asking if you are willing to answer a few questions and donate a few minutes of your time, you are likely contributing to a better understanding of the world around us by doing so.

Not everyone has free time readily available, of course. Many who do, however, brush aside legitimate requests to participate in research for no apparent reason other than lack of interest.

Much of the disdain for research teams making phone calls is sorely misplaced.

Of course, nobody wants to talk to telemarketers or solicitors, especially because they always seem to call at the most inopportune times. Yet, there exists a very fine line between academic research teams and telemarketing advertisers: the former engaged in consuming, producing, and transmitting knowledge; the latter are not. 

Survey research relies on generating a healthy number of responses. To make any sort of qualified statement about the larger population using statistics, researchers need a sufficient sample size. Low response rates in survey research lead to poor data quality and limit opportunities to expand knowledge.

Response rates vary from survey to survey, and the method selected can affect this. Telephone surveys, such as the Hawkeye Poll, are frequently faced with response rates as low as 10 percent. This means that for every 10 people called, only one will participate in the survey. 

Such low response rates have additional effects above and beyond not providing an adequate amount of data. Conducting large-scale survey research costs both money and time. The more people who do not respond and participate, the more time and money is wasted. The Hawkeye Poll is supported by both the state and University of Iowa and is run entirely by members of the university community.

So when your phone rings in mid-November and a young college student asks you for 15 to 20 minutes of your time, remember that you will make the world a better place by responding positively and answering truthfully.

Kellen Gracey
UI Graduate Student

In today's issue:

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.