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American Association for Public Opinion Research

AAPOR Behind the Scenes

by Roger Tourangeau, President
Much of AAPOR’s activities take place behind the scenes.  For example, AAPOR currently has four task forces operating—one on the future of telephone interviewing, one on election polling, one of the survey climate, and one on data falsification.  In this month’s newsletter, I’d like to update you on the work of these task forces, and also bring you some news about the association’s very successful fundraising efforts in the last year.  I think you’ll agree that there’s a lot of hard work going on!
Task Force Activities
Telephone Interviewing:  This task force (formally the Task Force on the Future of U.S. General Population Telephone Survey Research) was established in the summer of 2014 and has just about completed its work.  Its report is undergoing is final review and should be ready for dissemination in the next few months.  It is a comprehensive review of the state of telephone interviewing now and in the coming years. 
Election Polling: Since last April, AAPOR has been hard at work on what is perhaps the most anticipated task force report of 2017. While its initial charge was to prepare a report that summarizes the accuracy of 2016 pre-election polling (for both primaries and the general election), reviews variation by different methodologies, and identifies differences from prior election years, the task force has shifted focus somewhat in the wake of the election.
In addition to looking at how the polls did in 2016 compared to previous elections and how that varied by survey design, the task force is exploring specifically why some polls—particularly state-level ones in the upper Midwest—systematically underestimated support for Donald Trump. This effort is in full swing, and the task force is expected to complete the report for release around the AAPOR Annual Conference May 18-21, 2017.
Enhancing the Climate for Surveys:  This task force is a joint effort by AAPOR and the American Statistical Association (ASA) and it will definitely be a multi-year effort. The Task Force for Enhancing the Climate for Surveys has started the first phase of its work. This initial phase focuses on enhancing federal data collection efforts in the belief that elevating public trust in federal data collection will go a long way toward addressing the issues faced in all survey and opinion research.
We can expect four sections in the initial report from this task force:
  • A section focusing on current agency/organization communication practices.  This group will gather information from federal agencies and statistical agencies abroad, as well as external organizations that work on federal statistics.  They will seek documentation of practices for communicating with respondents, prior to, and after survey participation.  They will be assisted by teams of students in the JPSM design seminar. 
  • A section on the branding of federal statistics.  This group will examine how the "official statistics" branding effort completed in the U.K. might be applied in the U.S.  Branding involves both certification of research process and ethics, as well as the promoting the brand.  The goal is to provide public information on federal statistics that advertises why and how they are done. 
  • A section on civic attitudes and behaviors and their relationship to survey participation.  This group will research the links between civic attitudes and behaviors and survey participation.  They will suggest ways in which these links may be used to frame messages on the value of surveys and participating in them. 
  • A section on alternatives to surveys for producing federal statistics.  This team will look at ways in which respondent burden can be reduced by gathering information through other means.  They will use work being done through CNSTAT as a point of departure.
Data Falsification: Within the last few years, there has been a spike in concerns about data falsification, especially interviewer falsification of survey data.  In addition, new methods (such as computer-assisted recording of interviewers and tracking of interviewers via GPS) for detecting falsification have become available. Many of these new approaches involve statistical methods for detecting seemingly suspicious patterns of data across interviews.
The joint AAPOR/ASA Data Falsification Task Force has been meeting regularly and is making progress. The primary product of the Task Force will be a white paper, which is currently scheduled for release and presentation at the 2018 AAPOR Annual Conference and the 2018 Joint Statistical Meetings.
The paper will review empirical efforts to assess the level of the problem, present brief case studies of highly publicized or highly damaging examples of data falsification (e.g. the Diederik Stapel case), examine and evaluate the various methods currently used for detecting falsification of survey data and make recommendations regarding best practices for detecting falsification—including traditional ongoing monitoring efforts and more recent data analytic methods. 
The Task Force’s activities for the report are structured around the following major sections:
  • Types of Survey Data Falsification
  • Existing Organization Guidelines
  • Prevention
  • Detection
  • Impacts on Analyses
Good News on the Fundraising Front
Finally, last year was a banner year for AAPOR’s fundraising efforts.  All told, AAPOR received more than $20,000 in gifts, more than double the $8000 we raised in 2015.  The number of donors was also up from 68 in 2015 to 102 in 2016.  Sorry for all the numbers, but I’m prone to being quantitative!
Much as I’d like to take the credit for this, I’m afraid it’s our Finance Committee that deserves the kudos, especially the Development Subcommittee, headed by Nancy Mathiowetz.  (The other members of the Finance Committee are Allyson Holbrook, Janet Streicher, Kelly Foster, Daniel Merkle, and Jeffery Stec.)  Many thanks to all of them and to the Kellen staff for their hard work.
This year’s fundraising featured a new program, in which past AAPOR Presidents were asked to make matching donations, and, boy, did they ever!  AAPOR received gifts from Nancy Belden, Mollyann Brody, Diane Colasanto, Murray Edelman, Kathy Frankovic, Scott Keeter, Richard Kulka, Michael Link, Betsy Martin, Nancy Mathiowetz, Peter Miller, Frank Newport, Robert Santos, Mark Schulman, Eleanor Singer, Michael Traugott, and Cliff Zukin.  I think you’ll agree with me that this list represents a dream team of survey researchers; it turns out they’re not only talented but extremely generous as well.

I’d also like to mention some of the other generous donors over the last five years—Diane O’Rourke, Mick Couper, Ron Langley, Brad Edwards, Bob Oldendick, and Shap Wolf are among the top donors over that period.  Many thanks to each of you for your generous gifts to AAPOR!
So what are we going to do with this new-found largesse?  First of all, we will use the money to make it possible for more students to attend the conference.  We will increase the number of student travel awards to 15 in 2017, up from 11 the previous year.  In addition, we will be able to continue to fund the Transparency Initiative so there is no cost to the participants.
When I became the President of AAPOR, I was worried that we might run a deficit and I would become known as Roger the Red.  Thanks in part to these generous donations, we seem likely to have a surplus and I can remain Roger the Black!!