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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Death of the random sample greatly exaggerated

We are told over and over again that there is a coming crisis in empirical sociology and that one of the victims of this will be the face-to-face social survey with respondents selected by probability sampling methods. To be sure there are increasingly big challenges involved in collecting data in this way - responses rates more or less everywhere have plummeted over the last 20 years - but there is still life in the old dog. And today's Guardian has an encouraging report about the success of the British Election Survey's post-election data collection compared to the pre-election polls (including their own pre-election panel). I'll link to the BES's own blog post on this rather than the Guardian's story because it contains much more detail and because they deserve the traffic! 

Shout out too for one of our ex-students Jon Mellon who is behind a lot of the work reported there.

The lesson seems to be that if you actually care whether the results of your research bear some relationship to reality as opposed to only caring about creating a big media splash, then you have to spend the money  to select respondents at random and then make the effort to pursue them vigorously. Because, at least for some questions, relying on heavily self-selected respondents is like pissing in the wind: unless you are very agile you are going to get your feet wet.

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