The Vanishing Respondent In Telephone Surveys

Peter Tuckel
Hunter College, CUNY
and
Harry O'Neill
RoperASW


As is well known, response rates to telephone surveys have undergone a steep decline over the last several decades (see, for example, Brehm, 1993; Groves and Couper, 1998). This decline adds considerably to the costs of administering these surveys and, more importantly, calls into question the generalizability of the results.

For the most part, survey researchers attribute the long-term decline in response rates to the growth in the number of potential respondents who refuse to participate in a survey. There is evidence, however, that in recent years the increase in refusal rates has tapered off and, in some instances, even slightly reversed direction. This positive development, though, has been offset by the increasing difficulty on the part of survey researchers to establish contact with potential respondents.