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American Association for Public Opinion Research

AAPOR 73rd Annual Conference Update

by Trent D. Buskirk, 2018 Conference Chair and Courtney Kennedy, Assoc. Conference Chair
During the 2017 Annual AAPOR conference, we brought back the keynote address by having a great kickoff conversation entitled “Assessing the Climate for Surveys and Social Science Data Collection.”  The participants of the panel included industry experts Claudia Deane, John Dick, Peter Miller and Marie Omero along with Michael Link as moderator.  One thing that became very clear from this panel is that Survey and Public Opinion Research is very much alive but the ways in which we accomplish our work may be changing or shifting.  The experts discussed great opportunities that are being explored at the interface of our field and other fields such as technology and data science, for example.   

As the kickoff panel came to a close, I didn’t want the conversation to stop!  I thought about many of the themes that were discussed including the role of surveys in a world that is enamored with big data and all its promise.  I also thought about all the new technological developments around text mining and other facets of machine learning that are changing the way surveys can and will be automated and coded in the coming years.  I also thought about all the ways we as survey and public opinion researchers rely on various technologies to field our studies, conduct our interviews and perform our analyses.  I was also struck by the fact that these opportunities, in some sense, are giving way to fundamental changes in how we think about conducting our work.  The conversation about the role of non-probability surveys is one case in point.  Years ago I don’t remember this topic having so much traction at our conferences and now we have whole sessions dedicated to learning more about the opportunities these types of data present.  

As I walked away from the 2017 AAPOR conference my mind was on fire thinking about how cool it is to be a survey researcher and how much I love this association.  I was also thinking about what all this opportunity means for the future of our field.  Several AASRO colleagues came to mind who mentioned that they were closing their phone rooms as the demand for RDD studies has decreased.  I also thought about the Warren J. Mitofsky Innovators Award team (Don Dillman, Leah Melani Christian, Michelle Edwards, Benjamin Messer, Morgan Millar and Jolene Smyth) for their work on “web-push” methods that combine two modes of communication – mail and web – for data collection.  

Then I began thinking about what all this opportunity and shifting could mean for our 2018 conference.   It made me think about the bigger conversation that is happening in broader research circles about how to leverage all manner of data for insights.   Data scientists are having this conversation already and are using web scraping and other big data sources along with machines to learn and estimate various behaviors and opinions in many fields and areas of commerce.  It may seem like these new methods are replacing more traditional survey and public opinion research methods and in some cases that might be.  But in other respects data scientists are beginning to note that it isn’t just the volume and velocity of data that create valuable insights – it’s also the veracity.  Survey and public opinion researchers know a lot about measurement and other sources of error around data collection.  We surely have lots to contribute to this broader conversation.  

And so this leads me to conference themes.  In 2018 we want to keep the conversation going and contribute to it in new ways by showcasing and encouraging contributions that exemplify how survey and public opinion research have been taken to new levels by combining new data sources, using new modes or using new algorithms for design and analysis.  And so it is that our 2018 conference theme is “Taking Survey and Public Opinion Research to New Heights!” This theme also seems fitting since for the first time ever AAPOR will be held in The Mile High City - Denver, Colorado.  Being in Denver officially takes AAPOR to new heights as Denver is the city with the highest altitude among all cities hosting AAPOR conferences!!   Also, please keep in mind that the conference takes place from Wednesday, May 16 through Saturday,  May 19 (another first in recent history).  

We are in the process of firming up the conference plans right now, but one of the new elements this year that resonates with the theme is a new mini-conference track called PORTAL (Public Opinion Research Training and Learning) that will host two-speakers in 90 minute sessions where each speaker will give about a 40-minute introductory talk on various topics related to survey and public opinion research.  For example, we might have a 90-minute PORTAL session that gives a 40 minute “R for Survey Researchers” talk followed by another 40-minute talk on “Python for Beginners.”  The goal of the mini-conference track is to help all of us retool or learn the basics of some of the traditional areas of survey research (maybe for the first time) along with some that are emerging.  It is our hope that by attending sessions that you will take your own survey and public opinion research and practice in new directions and maybe even to new heights!

Another thing we are doing this year is to request that abstracts be submitted to a particular track.  While your research may fall within multiple tracks, we are asking that you submit it under the track you deem as the primary area.  This new approach will allow us to improve the representation of papers from all tracks by allowing the scoring method to be based on track-specific distributions rather than an overall distribution.  We think all papers will be able to compete more fairly this way and are hoping this approach increases and diversifies the types of papers we see presented at AAPOR.  

Finally, we have heard you and your opinions about AAPOR Poster sessions and are determined to make improvements in those sessions this year.  Among the things we are planning to try this year is to display posters by track (or groups of tracks) and have found space at the conference that will allow posters to be presented in smaller rooms grouped by track or groups of tracks.  

We are really getting excited about AAPOR 2018 and want to encourage you to consider submitting a paper, poster, PORTAL talk or a combination of these.  Abstract submissions will be opening on 9/11 and will close on 11/9.  We will have a separate submission category for the PORTAL track and if you have ideas about two talks of this sort you’d like to be in the same session, feel free to submit the two of them as a PORTAL Panel.  

We will provide more specific details on AAPORnet as they unfold.  If you have any questions about this year’s conference or want to know how you could get involved as a volunteer, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me (Trent) at [email protected].  

Let’s go AAPOR!