The Pew Research Center recently announced it would be conducting the majority of its U.S. polling online, much like most other public opinion surveys these days.
Until recently, phone-based surveys were the de facto standard for opinion polls. According to Pew’s own research, the number of surveys conducted over the Internet “have increased dramatically in the last 10 years,” driven by available technology and lower costs.
The paradox is that people respond to online and phone polls differently. Pew calls this the mode effect, when responses to some of the same questions are different depending on the interview format.
For Pew, switching to online polling after years of telephone surveys will have an impact on quantifying historical data. This also may influence how media report on the center’s year-over-year trends.
Online polling methodologies may be shaping a new generation of survey taking. The good news is that trusted pollsters are transparent about these approaches.
And when it comes to the pros and cons of online vs. telephone surveys, a simple Web search will yield myriad results, including observations from Pew, as well as in Forbes.
Most polling firms and universities use a combination of online and telephone survey methods. It’s essential, however, that online surveys produce statistically accurate data, especially when the results are used by media.
To help ensure reporting accuracy, the National Council on Public Polls published a list of 20 questions a journalist should ask about poll results. The irony is that reporters don’t have time to review questions because of today’s ultra-competitive “real-time” news environment.
General consensus says polls serve a greater good helping define public opinion on everything from brands to policy. Media love surveys too. So much so that The Hill launched “What America’s Thinking,” a Web TV show that focuses on the latest news about public opinion.
For news media, its vital that trends are accurate, whether the data is derived from the Web or via telephone.