Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Two-Phase Sampling to Acquire Information About Nonrespondents

06/01/2002

When survey data are used in legal or policy settings, the credibility of results is sometimes enhanced by mounting separate studies concerning nonresponse. There are two possible foci: experimental comparisons of different protocols and two-phase sample surveys of nonrespondents. An example of the first study is a mixed-mode design based on a list frame sample of prior recipients, one mode using telephone matching and telephone survey requests; and the other uses address locating and face-to-face interviews. For cost reasons the face-to-face mode might use a smaller sample size than the telephone mode. The telephone mode is likely to have lower response rates than the face-to-face mode. The sample sizes might be fixed to determine the magnitude of mode differences at some prior specified standard error. The total cost of the survey per unit measured lies between the telephone and face-to-face modes, but the additional information purchased with the mixed-mode design is protection against large-mode effects on key survey conclusions.

A two-phase sample design for nonresponse studies begins after the main survey has completed its work. The intent under perfect conditions is that a probability subsample of nonrespondents to the first phase of the survey can yield evidence regarding the likelihood of large nonresponse errors in the first- phase estimates. The perfect conditions yield 100 percent response rates on the second-phase cases, thus providing unbiased estimates of the characteristics of the nonrespondent pool. Although such designs have a long history (Deming, 1953; Hansen and Hurwitz, 1958), they never inevitably achieve the perfect conditions in practice. They are used, however, when some information on the nonrespondents is judged to be of crucial importance. For example, a second-phase sample of nonrespondents was taken on the National Survey of American Families, using a radically reduced telephone interview, relaxed respondent rules, and an incentive offer. Among the nonrespondent cases to the first-phase effort (spanning many months and repeated refusal conversion efforts), 36 percent of screener nonrespondents and 58 percent of full interview nonrespondents complied with the second-phase request (Groves et al., 1999). Those responding were found not to have large socioeconomic status differences from the respondent group (what differences did exist suggested higher income households were more likely to be nonrespondents).

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