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Grant Miller: Managerial Incentives in Public Service Delivery

Nonresponse and Measurement Error in Mobile Phone Surveys

a PSC Research Project

Investigators:   Courtney Kathryn Kennedy, Frederick G. Conrad

Landline telephone surveys have been used for several decades to generate critical knowledge about consumer confidence, health conditions, political attitudes, and other characteristics of the American public. The coverage provided by this methodology is rapidly declining due to widespread adoption and, in many cases, substitution of mobile (cell) phones over landlines. In order to address this problem, survey researchers have begun supplementing landline surveys with samples of mobile phone numbers. The error properties of these mobile phone surveys, particularly with respect to nonresponse and measurement, are largely unknown. Methodologists have limited knowledge as to why some people answer surveys on their mobile phone but others do not. It is also an open question as to whether people respond less thoughtfully on a mobile phone as compared to a landline. This proposal addresses these gaps in the literature.

The research has three objectives. The first is to identify individual-level mechanisms (attitudes and behaviors) that lead to nonresponse in surveys sampling mobile phone numbers. Identifying these mechanisms will alert researchers to survey measures that are related to response propensity and, thus, at risk of nonresponse error. The second objective is to determine whether the likelihood of respondents using cognitive shortcuts to answer survey questions is greater in mobile phone interviews than in landline interviews. Cognitive shortcuts, such as responding “don’t know” or not differentiating between items in a battery, are associated with measurement error. The third objective is to assess whether the type of device (landline versus mobile phone) can influence the response distribution of survey measures that are sensitive to the respondent’s physical location.

Funding Period: 07/01/2009 to 06/30/2011

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