The Pollsters' Biggest Challenge

The single biggest challenge 2004 pollsters� all faced was, and remains, sampling error. Simply stated, sampling error is the probability that a given sample of potential voters does not represent a perfect cross-section of the United Stated population.�

When sample errors become pervasive, luck starts to play a much larger role in the accuracy of survey results, which most researchers prefer to keep to an absolute minimum.�

What are some of the factors that lead to sampling errors? Let�s take a quick look at some recent trends:

Now that you have a better defined problem and an identified set of objectives, the next step of the marketing research process is to specify the approach to reach your objectives. From deciding on the best methodology to funding the project:

  • In the 1960s, response rates to political polls approached 70 percent. They now average less than 40 percent.

  • Increasing usage of cell phones and Caller ID provide potential respondents increasing ability to screen phone calls, making certain population segments harder to reach and represent in surveys.

  • Exit poll cooperation rate was down almost 10 percent between 1992 to 2000, with just 50 percent agreeing to be surveyed in 2000.

  • Most agree that Americans have more demands on their time then ever before, making them very protective of each and every free minute.

  • It is currently illegal for pollsters to call cell phones to complete surveys. It is estimated that 2.5 percent of Americans have only cell phones with no traditional landline service. There are 169 million cell phones in usage in the United States.

  • While the majority of Americans have Internet access (~69 percent), most have traditional telephones (~99 percent).

All of these trends represent challenges that need to be overcome. For example, pollsters can make sure, through weighting or other methods, that the 2.5 percent of cell phone only users are represented in their survey results. The political pollsters in this election cycle were able develop remarkably representative samples given the obstacles introduced by modern technology.

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