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American Association for Public Opinion Research

AAPOR Releases Report on Online Survey Panels

March 25, 2010

Media Contact:
Deanna Marchetti, [email protected]
+1-847-205-2651 x255

The American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) released a special task-force review of current empirical findings related to the use of online panels for survey data collection.

This new report summarizes academic and practitioner research about online panels, including the recruitment of potential respondents, panel maintenance, post-survey adjustments and the validity and reliability of the results. This overview provides key information and basic recommendations about whether and when to use online panels and how best to judge their quality. 

Virtually nonexistent just 10 years ago, spending on online research in 2009 is estimated at $2 billion, the vast majority of which was supported by online panels. While online panels are now a global phenomenon, U.S. companies have been particularly aggressive in developing techniques for building panels and using them in a wide variety of research. The report is primarily concerned with the pros and cons of online panels in the United States, evaluating them from a “total survey error” perspective.

Key conclusions and recommendations include:

  • Researchers should avoid nonprobability online panels when one of the research objectives is to accurately estimate population values.
  • There are times when a nonprobability online panel is an appropriate choice, as there may be survey purposes and topics where the generally lower cost and unique properties of Web data collection is an acceptable alternative to traditional methods.
  • Users of online panels should understand that there are significant differences in the composition and practices of individual panels that can affect survey results.
  • Panel companies can inform the public debate considerably by sharing more about their methods and data.
  • Full and complete disclosure of how results were obtained is essential. It is the only means by which the quality of research can be judged and results replicated.

Download the full Online Panels Report.