March 31, 2010

Can I volunteer to be picked for a survey?

Q. I wanted to know how can someone participate in the surveys that you conduct. I find them interesting, and would like to be a part of your studies.

While we appreciate people who want to participate, we can’t base our polls on volunteers. A survey of volunteers is a “non-probability sample” and the results cannot be generalized to the public as a whole. A key foundation of good survey research is to give every type of person an equal chance of having their views reflected (in more formal terms, our probability samples give everyone in the population of interest a known, non-zero chance of being selected). Polls of volunteers would violate this principle since not everyone would have had an equal chance of being included. And more specifically, the kinds of people who might volunteer for our polls are likely to be very different from the average American. Just like you, they are probably more politically knowledgeable and engaged.

Nonetheless, we get this question often and so we have created many opportunities for people to take our surveys and compare their responses to those of the general public. Among the most popular are our news knowledge quizzes, the political typology quiz, the technology user quiz, and our newest feature, How Millennial Are You? The Quiz.

For more on our sampling procedures, see the sampling section on our methodology webpage.

Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research, Pew Research Center