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American Association for Public Opinion Research

Report on Survey Participation Refusals

-- What constitutes a refusal, who refuses, refusal aversion and conversion --
-- Discussion of rights of respondents --


DEERFIELD, IL, Sept. 8, 2014 -- In light of the significant and steady decrease in the public’s participation in surveys over the last 25 years, the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) announces the release of Current Knowledge and Considerations Regarding Survey Refusals, a comprehensive report on current knowledge about refusals in survey research, their impact, techniques to minimize them, and ethical considerations for the rights of respondents with regard to survey refusals. 

This report details what constitutes a refusal, who refuses, refusal aversion, and refusal conversion. It also discusses the rights of respondents. It is intended to serve as a resource for survey researchers, members of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), consumers of research, including journalists, and the general public who wish to learn more about these important issues. 

With few exceptions, participation in a survey in the U.S. is a voluntary act and such participation is critical to the success of countless research projects. The persistent trend in increased survey refusals has led to several concerns that motivated the initiation of this report. High refusal rates potentially undermine the validity of survey results. Of practical concern are the efficacies and cost implications of refusals as well as enhanced efforts to avoid initial refusals. Lastly are the ethical concerns potentially raised by efforts to minimize refusals. As such, an important goal of this document is to foster greater consideration of researchers for the rights of respondents in survey research.

“As response rates have declined in the past quarter century, it has become imperative to take stock of the research out there on survey refusals and understand better the impact of refusal reduction in surveys,” said David J. Dutwin, Co-chair, along with John D. Loft, of the AAPOR Survey Refusal Task Force. “The Task Force hopes researchers can use the report to increase their understanding of this important issue in survey research.”

See all AAPOR Task Force Reports

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The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) is a professional organization dedicated to advancing the science and practice of survey and opinion research to give people a voice in the decisions that affect their daily lives.

We strive to:

• Educate policy makers, the media and the public at large to help them make better use of surveys and survey findings;
• Educate practitioners on new developments affecting our field;
• Advocate the highest standards of ethical conduct for survey and opinion research;
• Encourage and disseminate research and innovations that improve our methods;
• Encourage and disseminate systematic analyses of public opinion on the major issues of the day;
• Promote best practices in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting survey data;
• Provide opportunities for our members to exchange views and promote the values of our organization; and,
• Act as an advocate for survey and opinion research and its practitioners.