Plunging Participation Rates Plague Telephone Surveys

Robocalls, caller ID and impatience with dinner-time calls have shrunk the number of people willing to be respondents for telephone public opinion surveys. Pew Research and others have shifted to online panel research, an alternative CFM has recommended for years.

Robocalls, caller ID and impatience with dinner-time calls have shrunk the number of people willing to be respondents for telephone public opinion surveys. Pew Research and others have shifted to online panel research, an alternative CFM has recommended for years.

Response rates to telephone public opinion surveys continue to decline, making them more expensive and less attractive than online panel research. We’ve been pointing to this trend for years. Now Pew Research confirms it.

The response rate on landline phones to survey calls in 1997 was 36 percent. In 2018, it fell to 6 percent. Potential telephone survey respondents have declined recently because of the surge in robocalls. Phones with caller ID also discourage answering unfamiliar rings and sometimes flag survey calls as spam.

This isn’t the end of public opinion research. Online panel research has represented an attractive and versatile alternative for some time. Participation rates tend to be higher, there is an ability to follow up with some or all of respondents and it appears participants are more candid online than on the phone. Participation is higher because respondents can answer survey questions when it is convenient for them, as opposed to when someone calls on the phone.

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According to Pew Research, low response rates on telephone surveys, especially ones that include cell phones, don’t equate to lower accuracy of findings. The real impact is higher costs. “This reality,” Pew says, “often forces survey organizations to make trade-offs in their studies, such as reducing sample size, extending field periods or reducing quality in other ways in order to shift resources to the interviewing effort.” Those trade-offs can lessen confidence in results.

Lower participation rates on telephone surveys aren’t new.  They have steadily declined since at least 1997. Rates stabilized around 9 percent in 2013, then started plunging again in 2016. Lower participation rates have persuaded Pew to conduct most of its US polling online using its American Trends Panel.

CFM has recommended online panel research to skeptical clients. To ease skepticism, we have benchmarked online results with results from telephone surveys, showing that results are comparable. 

As telephone survey participation rates have declined and sample sizes have been trimmed, panel research offers an affordable opportunity for larger sample sizes, often larger than even healthy telephone survey samples.

Larger sample sizes can increase the confidence rate for panel research by ensuring the samples are representative of the audience being polled. Larger sample sizes have another practical value – they allow for greater segmentation of respondent results, which can be valuable in reading poll results. For example, in political polling, it is useful to have reliable results by congressional districts as well as statewide.

Maybe the greatest value of online research over telephone surveys is the ability to follow up with respondents. This can take the form of sharing findings, asking follow-up questions or seeking views on subsequent, related information.

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Segmentation of panels allows segmented research. Follow-up questions can be directed at respondents based on their answers to questions. Online focus groups can be organized with respondents voicing a particular view. When we assisted Oregon officials in building a transportation funding proposal, we conducted online focus groups with respondents who expressed opposition to a gas tax increase, which produced useful information and an insightful dialogue among opponents that guided how the funding proposal was presented.

Telephone surveys have been a reliable research tool and still have utility. The ubiquity of cell phones, the surge of robocalls and the reluctance of people to interrupt dinner to answer survey questions are challenges that make telephone surveys a less effective option than before. The challenges are significant enough that panel research skeptics should put aside their doubts and talk to the firms that have spent time honing the use of online panel research.

Older Voters to Continue to Set US Political Agenda

Longer lifespans have many ramifications for housing, health care and mobility. They also have ramifications on US elections as the number of older adults continues to grow, packing even more clout on influencing political agendas by both Republicans and Democrats and perhaps deciding who will face off in the 2020 presidential election against Donald Trump.

Longer lifespans have many ramifications for housing, health care and mobility. They also have ramifications on US elections as the number of older adults continues to grow, packing even more clout on influencing political agendas by both Republicans and Democrats and perhaps deciding who will face off in the 2020 presidential election against Donald Trump.

The graying of America isn’t news, but the ramifications of a larger, older population on US elections may be underappreciated and undervalued in political campaign strategies, including for the 2020 presidential election.

Michael Hobbes, writing for Huffpost, says, “The US electorate is the oldest it’s ever been and will keep getting older for at least four more decades. Voters over retirement age will continue to dominate US politics until at least 2060.”

Not only are there more older people in America, Hobbes says there are more older registered voters who actually vote. Older voters take a different set of issues and perspectives to the ballot box than younger generations. And older voters are whiter and wealthier than younger cohorts.

“Older voters have unique characteristics and specific interests that transcend the Democratic-Republican divide,” Hobbes says. “From their economic circumstances to their demographic makeup, the concerns of older voters are only going to become more prominent as the baby boom generation enters retirement.” 

That’s why, he adds, politicians don’t like to cross older voters on issues such as Medicare and Social Security. In less obvious ways, they also recognize older Americans are largely white, traditional in their social views, more comfortable with the status quo and wealthier than the generations that follow them.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is one of seven declared or soon-to-declare candidates running for president who is 65 years or older. President Trump is 72. Based on current polls, if Joe Biden enters the race as expected, he will be the Democratic frontrunner. Biden is 76. His closest challenger is Bernie Sanders who is 77.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is one of seven declared or soon-to-declare candidates running for president who is 65 years or older. President Trump is 72. Based on current polls, if Joe Biden enters the race as expected, he will be the Democratic frontrunner. Biden is 76. His closest challenger is Bernie Sanders who is 77.

These tensions are evident in the mix of Democratic presidential candidates that stretch from young, fresh faces touting universal health care, free college tuition and transformational climate change policies to older, more seasoned pols who talk about preserving Social Security and Medicare and pursuing progressive legislation at a more measured pace. 

Young progressives point to the energy and new voters they are bringing to the Democratic Party. But in raw numbers, eligible voters who are 65 or older already outnumber Millennials and the gap is projected to grow larger over the next four presidential election years. That could heavily influence whether a fresh, younger face or a familiar, older face wins the Democratic nomination after the gauntlet of primary elections. Almost half of the declared or likely candidates for president in 2020 are 65 or older. 

Older voters have historically been more Republican than Democratic. Even though that is changing overall and especially in highly blue states, older adults as an age group are more moderate in their viewpoints. They tend to see themselves as the people who will have to pay for whatever policies are enacted. That reticence is almost hard-wired into the political process, according to Hobbes, and affects both Democratic and Republican policymaking. 

“To a great extent, older voters are still setting the agenda,” says Andrea Campbell, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology political scientist. “They’re incredibly important to both parties’ coalitions. Politicians remain reluctant to run afoul of older voters.”

As AARP bluntly said in its April 30, 2018 bulletin, “If candidates want to win, they better pay attention to the issues that matter to Americans 50-plus.”

 

Lessons We Learned from 50 Years of The Godfather

Few films of any generation have had the lasting impact as  The Godfather , which turns 50 this year. Amid all the violence, crime and intrigue, the movie conveys phrases and life lessons that have become everyday expressions and bedrock beliefs for many Americans.

Few films of any generation have had the lasting impact as The Godfather, which turns 50 this year. Amid all the violence, crime and intrigue, the movie conveys phrases and life lessons that have become everyday expressions and bedrock beliefs for many Americans.

The Godfather turns 50 this year, which is a reminder of how influential the trilogy has been, even though it tracks the lives and travails of a mobster family. 

Phrases derived from The Godfather such as “an offer you can’t refuse,” “it’s not personal, it’s business” and “time to hit the mattresses” have become everyday expressions. But the movie’s influence runs deeper to life lessons about power, family and even capitalism, according to Iris Milanova. “It has so much substance, and it offers some very important life lessons. That’s certainly an offer you can’t refuse.”

Here are some of the life lessons Milanova identified:

  • Don’t make promises you cannot keep. Your word is the most important thing that you have to offer.

  • Don’t involve yourself in other people’s personal lives. “Sonny, don’t get involved,” advised Carmela Corleone.

  • Family is the most important thing in life. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” says Don Vito Corleone.

  • Don’t go against your own family. “Fredo, you’re my older brother and I love you. But don’t you ever go against the family again. Ever.” – Michael Corleone.

  • Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Always keep a watchful eye on your enemies and play life’s game of chess with precision, dedication and tact.

  • Establish friendships out of respect, business and trust. “Friendship is everything. Friendship is more than talent. It is more than the government. It is almost the equal of family.” – Don Vito Corleone.

  • Violence is the last option. “I don’t like violence, Tom. I’m a businessman. Blood is a big expense.” – Solozzo.

  • Build a powerful community. “Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me.” – Don Vito Corleone.

  • Don’t take things too personal. “it’s not personal, it’s business.” – Michael Corleone. 

Francis Ford Coppola gained fame by directing the three Godfather films, which he readily admitted “made me,” not the reverse.

Francis Ford Coppola gained fame by directing the three Godfather films, which he readily admitted “made me,” not the reverse.

Francis Ford Coppola, who directed The Godfather movies, wrote a new introduction to Mario Puzo’s novel to mark its 50th anniversary. One of his more interesting observations is that many of the life lessons espoused by Don Vito Corleone were actual expressions Puzo heard from his own mother.

“Mario told me that all of the great dialogue, those quotable lines he put into the mouth of Don Corleone, were actually spoken by Mario’s mother. Yes, ‘an offer he can’t refuse,’ ‘keep your friends close but your enemies closer,’ ‘revenge is a dish that tastes best cold,’ and ‘a real man takes care of his family,’ among many others, were sayings he heard from his own mother’s lips. Mario later wrote, ‘Whenever the Godfather opened his mouth, in my own mind I heard the voice of my mother. I heard her wisdom, her ruthlessness, and her unconquerable love for her family and life itself. Don Corleone’s courage and loyalty came from her, his humanity came from her.’”

Coppola revealed it was his sister who suggested the idea that Kay, Michael Corleone’s long suffering wife, would abort their unborn son. “I loved it because it seemed symbolic and the only way a woman married to such a man could halt the satanic dance continuing generation after generation.”

Many films are unforgettable and have intergenerational appeal. The Godfather is that rare cultural phenomenon that became part of our lives for 50 years – and counting. To turn Michael Corleone’s phrase, “It’s not business, it’s personal.”

 

Top 10 List of Florida Man Superhero Losers

Lists are handy ways to track and assess things, events and people, including the jaw-droppingly weird Florida Man stories posted on Twitter by the Miami Herald. Reading the Florida Man Top 10 list of superhero losers will make you feel a lot better about yourself. Trust us.

Lists are handy ways to track and assess things, events and people, including the jaw-droppingly weird Florida Man stories posted on Twitter by the Miami Herald. Reading the Florida Man Top 10 list of superhero losers will make you feel a lot better about yourself. Trust us.

In South Florida, superhero is a sarcastic euphemism for loser. The Top 10 list of "Florida Man" superheroes proves the point.

For the unaware, @_FloridaMan is a popular Twitter feed that commemorates actions worthy of inclusion in its fictional “Department of Chaos.” The feed has 42,000 followers who chomp at the bit for the next account of stupefying weirdness, made even more bizarre by all occurring in the confines of South Florida.

Topping the Top 10 Florida Man list is Joshua James, who was jailed after throwing an illegally obtained Everglades alligator from his pickup truck through the drive-in window of a Wendy’s restaurant. No restaurant employees were reportedly injured and the alligator lived to snap another day. For his part, James was unable to explain why the alligator was in his vehicle or why he inexplicably chucked it through a drive-in window.

There isn’t yet a Top 10 Florida Woman list, but a leading candidate is a Dania Beach woman who pulled a knife on a man in a Dollar Store checkout line because he refused to stop farting. There could be a Top 10 Florida Animal list, too. A Pensacola puppy put his paw on the trigger of a pistol and shot a man who was using the gun to shoot a litter of seven puppies.

Reptiles play a prominent role in Florida Man incidents. A reptile store owner swung a bearded dragon overhead and hit an employee in the face. An unknown apartment dweller tied a 12-foot alligator to a tree with a parachute cord and then fed it neighborhood cats. He fled before being charged with animal cruelty.

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Fire and knives are another common obsession of Florida Man superheroes. Cannibal Corpse guitarist Patrick O’Brien broke into a neighbor’s house, pushed an occupant to the ground and brandished a knife. O’Brien was on fire after escaping his own house which was burning with the assistance of death metal flamethrowers.

A naked man in Cape Coral danced in a fire brandishing a knife to ward off firemen and police officers trying to rescue him.

A man dressed in a pirate costume fired muskets at cars on a bridge in the Florida Keys. His occupation at the time was wearing a pirate costume and carrying a musket.

An obviously hungry man gnawed the wrist of his girlfriend after they argued en route to a Taco Bell.

A teenager plucked a stuffed horse toy off a shelf in a Walmart, headed to the bedding department, proceeded to pleasure himself and then returned the impregnated horse to where he found it.

Those are just the top 10 Florida Man stories. Others include a Pensacola man who threatened his own family in a four-hour standoff with police over a slice of pizza. A Florida man was arrested for domestic battery after he threw a hard cookie that hit his girlfriend in the head. A homeless South Florida man was charged with stabbing a tourist with a scissors held by his feet. A man covered in ketchup was arrested after yelling profanities at passersby. A man called 911 after he was unable to take his cat into a strip club. A restaurant was forced to end its “bring your monkey night” promotion after an eight-year-old boy was bitten by, you guessed it, a hungry monkey.

The Florida Man story that Miami Herald reporter Howard Cohen likes the most involved a man in custody for auto theft. Upon his release, the suspect tried to heist a car in the police department parking lot. He failed to notice a police officer was in the car that he tried to steal.

Needless to say, Florida Man accounts aren't regularly shared by South Florida chambers of commerce. They just assume you know what you’re in for when you come there.

So, a word to the wise, watch out for flying gators, pizza slices, exploding flamethrowers and hard cookies.

Hidden Brains and Revealed Truths about Human Behavior

Shankar Vedantam does what public opinion pollsters can’t do – look inside the hidden brains of people to learn why they behave as they do. [Photo Credit: NPR]

Shankar Vedantam does what public opinion pollsters can’t do – look inside the hidden brains of people to learn why they behave as they do. [Photo Credit: NPR]

A central purpose of research is to find out what people think. Shankar Vedantam, the host of Hidden Brain, explores how people behave.

Vedantam is NPR’s social sciences correspondent who reports on human behavior, with a flair for fetching headlines. Some of his recent reports include:

  • “Close Enough: The Lure of Living Through Others”

  • “One Head, Two Brains: How the Brain’s Hemispheres Shape the World We See”

  • “Rewinding & Rewriting: The Alternate Universes in Our Heads”

  • “Why did So Many Americans Trust Russian Hackers’ Election Propaganda”

  • “The Best Medicine: Decoding the Hidden Meanings of Laughter”

  • “Why Consumers Systematically Give Inflated Grades for Poor Service”

His Hidden Brain podcasts do what public opinion polls don’t or can’t do. He looks at research from the likes of psychologists, neuroscientists and cultural anthropologists that examines what people actually do and tries to explain why.

Vedantam doesn’t have the usual credentials for exploring human behavior. His undergraduate degree is in electrical engineering and his master’s degree is in journalism. Early-career fellowships dealing with mental health, public health, science and religion helped to steer his award-winning career in the direction of trying to understand why people do what they do.

For example, Vedantam reported that people shy away from giving extremely negative ratings for service because they don’t want people to lose their jobs. The business school professor who informed his conclusion compared it why teachers tend to inflate grades for their students. “Nobody complains,” he said, “when they get an ‘A’.”

The style of his reporting is more light than heavy. But it isn’t frivolous fluff. Vedantam authored a book based on his reporting titled, “The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives.”

Frustration with polling often centers on its accuracy in predicting how people will vote. Vedantam’s reporting bypasses that frustration by digging into the mindset of voters, consumers, students and people in general that causes certain behavior. It tells us something about ourselves that we might not realize or choose to ignore. It is a form of radio talk therapy.

The social sciences are playing a larger role in shaping business decisions from how to market a product, respond to complaints and design people-friendly features. Social sciences research offers clues to group behavior, organizational effectiveness and game theory. Companies are hiring cultural anthropologists. Kevin O’Leary, Shark Tank’s brutally blunt investor, majored in psychology and environmental studies. 

Vedantam offers a gentler approach to the truth than O’Leary that can be valuable in helping listeners take stock of why they and other people think and behave the way we do. He makes uncomfortable reality easy to hear and consider.

 

The Secrets of Irresistibility

We love irresistible people, but they weren’t born that way. They developed the habits of irresistibility. You can, too.

We love irresistible people, but they weren’t born that way. They developed the habits of irresistibility. You can, too.

Some people are simply irresistible. But why? Travis Bradberry, who regularly reports on emotional intelligence, sniffed around and discovered 11 secrets of irresistibility. His methodology may not exactly be traditional research, but it sure is interesting.

Sharing his “findings” in a 2015 Forbes article, Bradberry writes, “Irresistible people aren’t constantly searching for validation. They are confident enough to find it in themselves. Their sense of self-worth comes from within.” This healthy perspective, he says, allows irresistible people to exercise more curiosity about others.

Bradberry posits that irresistibility isn’t the byproduct of dumb luck; it is a matter of personal habits. He suggests anyone can emulate the “secrets” of irresistibility. Here is a synopsis of those secrets: 

  1. Treat everyone with respect and act like you are no better than anyone else.

  2. Follow the Platinum Rule by treating others as they would like to be treated.

  3. Ditch small talk to engage in real conversation and form an emotional connection.

  4. Focus on people more than your smartphone.

  5. Avoid trying too hard to impress others.

  6. Recognize the difference between fact and opinion.

  7. Be authentic – be yourself.

  8. Exhibit integrity by walking your talk.

  9. Smile.

  10. Look presentable to reflect your self-respect.

  11. Find reasons to love life.

“Irresistible people did not have fairy godmothers hovering over their cribs. They’ve simply perfected certain appealing qualities and habits that anyone can adopt as their own.,” Bradberry says. “They think about other people more than they think about themselves, and they make other people feel liked, respected, understood and seen. Just remember: the more you focus on others, the more irresistible you’ll be.”