June 23, 2010

Why won’t you pay me to answer your poll questions?

Q. One is beseiged, especially at election time, by telephone “pollsters”. My response is: “How much will you pay me for my opinion?” After all, the questioner is being paid, their employer is being paid, and the party requesting the poll is getting valuable information. I am, perhaps, the most important part of the equation. Is it not fair that I be compensated also?

We are very appreciative of the time that our respondents contribute to participate in our polls. The average Pew Research Center survey interviews about 1,500 respondents and takes about 20 minutes to complete. That means respondents as a group are contributing about 500 hours of time to take part. But normally we — and most other polling organizations — do not pay people for the time they spend participating.

The main reason for this is that we see polling as a benefit to the public, and believe that most of our respondents do as well. Polls give people a chance to have their opinions and experiences documented and represented to public officials, policy makers, leaders in various sectors and to the broader public. Polling is not the only way public opinion is registered, but it is an important way and one that is more representative of the population than some other methods, such as letters and calls to public officials, campaign contributions or participation in volunteer organizations.

But there are times when we do compensate respondents. We offer our cell phone respondents a small cash reimbursement because most people have to pay for the minutes they use on their cell phones. When we conduct focus groups that require travel to a central facility and take a couple of hours to complete, we compensate participants to help pay for travel, baby sitting or other expenses. And some surveys that are very long or especially complicated may warrant offering compensation.

Scott Keeter, Director of Survey Research, Pew Research Center