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The trouble with phone sampling

When we administer surveys for our clients, one of our priorities is to get the most comprehensive data possible to gauge community opinion. Our approach is tried and true, and it works: direct mail, with the option to respond online.

This consistently generates high response rates because it allows those who are comfortable with technology to quickly share their opinion online. At the same time, a paper survey allows those residents who prefer to fill out a survey by hand to respond as well.

One of the techniques we don’t use is telephone sampling.

As a communication means, the way Americans rely on and use telephones has changed dramatically in the past decade. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, less than half of U.S. households (a mere 42.7 percent) have a landline phone, and that number continues to drop each year.

Demographically speaking, those households who continue to hold on to their landlines tend to be older residents. While this is an important voter block to consider when putting issues on the ballot – they’re traditionally engaged voters who make a point of getting to the polls – oversampling this population can skew data, especially when it comes to a community’s tax tolerance.

Attempting to include cellular phone numbers in a telephone sample opens up multiple cans of worms. Typically, randomly generated cell phone sampling numbers are based on area code, telephone number and/or a bank of numbers that represents the area geographically as well as a variety of cell phone carriers. In theory, this should work, but there are still problems.

Many people now retain their cell phone numbers when they relocate, which means that a portion of residents have active cell phone numbers not associated with their geographic area. Conversely, numbers randomly generated through this method may no longer be in use in the area.

More importantly, with the growing problem of robocalls, especially to cell phones, more consumers simply don’t answer calls from unknown numbers (and Grandma and Grandpa kick it old school and use their answering machines to screen those robocalls at home). According to the Federal Communications Commission, more than 47.8 billion robocalls were placed last year. And though many people place themselves on their state’s “Do Not Call” list, robocalls continue to plague consumers, both on cellular and landline phones.

Based on these trends, School Perceptions does not use telephone sampling in our survey work. The end result is that our data represents a much more accurate cross section of the communities we work in on behalf of our clients.

Give us a call to learn more about our process and how we can measure the opinions that matter in your community. 262.644.4300 or just drop us an email at

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