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American Association for Public Opinion Research

What Good are Phone Surveys?

"Kill all the pollsters" - Tucker Carlson, The Spin Room, CNN

Many Americans probably share Tucker's annoyance after their family dinner is interrupted by a call from a telemarketer with a sales pitch disguised as a poll. Legitimate survey researchers also want to end abusive and intrusive polling practices. We enjoy uninterrupted dinners with our families, too.

But kill all the pollsters? Be careful what you wish for. A world without telephone surveys likely would be unhealthier, more crime-ridden and less well-educated. That's because much of the critical data that fuel improvements in health, criminal justice, public education and many other essential programs come from telephone surveys.

So before you sign that petition to ban all polls, think about some of what would be lost:

Health Surveys

Social Indicators

  • National Crime Victimization Survey by The U.S. Census Bureau
    • Provides legislators, policy makers and law enforcement with the most reliable estimate of violent and property crimes.
  • National Household Education Surveys by the National Center for Education Statistics
    • Measures the state of education, including evaluatory measures of programs on adult education, early childhood education and after-school programs and activities.

Surveys Conducted by Major Foundations

Also lost would be large local, state and national surveys conducted by major foundations that provide essential data to legislators, policymakers and journalists on critical problems facing the country. Among them:

  • The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
    • Conducts surveys of health needs of the elderly, the plight of those without medical insurance and the state of teen health
  • The Commonwealth Fund
    • Surveys under-insured and sporadically insured Americans as well as polls that measure the health needs of immigrants and projects on mentors and children.
  • Public Agenda Foundation
    • A leader in surveys of the experiences, problems and needs of teachers, students, parents and school administrators.

This information was developed by AAPOR as part of a comprehensive online journalism polling course created in partnership with NewsU, a project of the Poynter Institute and funded by the Knight Foundation. The course launched September 2007.