Tracking Welfare Reform: Designing Followup Studies of Recipients Who Leave Welfare. Response Rates


A high response rate is critical to the success of the survey and its acceptance by the public, the media, and decisionmakers. A high response rate ensures greater accuracy by minimizing "response bias," the difference between the respondents and the total sample. Major followup studies generally seek a response rate of 70 percent or more.

Most nonresponse arises from the failure to locate respondents. Methods for increasing the response rate include:

  • building tracking information into automated systems;
  • including a special in-office followup form at intake;
  • conducting a special survey for tracking purposes;
  • verifying addresses and phone numbers with other records;
  • being persistent and flexible in scheduling interviews; and
  • using in-field followup after failure to complete a telephone interview.

Some states, such as Massachusetts and Oklahoma, have had some success using monetary incentives to encourage people to respond to surveys. Other states have encountered political resistance to this approach.

Survey response also depends on the experience and organization of the interviewers. Field interviewers must be trained in the objectives of the survey, must elicit trust from the individuals, and must be well-organized and well-supervised. Although states such as South Carolina have had success using state employees for field interviews because the workers already have an established relationship with the clients, other states avoid using state employees because respondents may perceive that the workers are "checking up on them" or that their welfare check may be affected. Confidentiality issues may also come into play when using state employees. Interviewers whose primary purpose is something other than the survey, such as nurses or social workers performing mandatory home visits, may not obtain complete or accurate results.