The role of topic interest in survey participation decisions

Abstract

While a low survey response rate may indicate that the risk of nonresponse error is high, we know little about when nonresponse causes such error and when nonresponse is ignorable. Leverage-salience theory of survey participation suggests that when the survey topic is a factor in the decision to participate, noncooperation will cause nonresponse error. We test three hypotheses derived from the theory: (1) those faced with a survey request on a topic of interest to them cooperate at higher rates than do those less interested in the topic; (2) this tendency for the "interested" to cooperate more readily is diminished when monetary incentives are offered; and (3) the impact of interest on cooperation has nonignorability implications for key statistics. The data come from a three-factor experiment examining the impact on cooperation with surveys on (a) five different topics, using (b) samples from five different populations that have known attributes related to the topics, with (c) two different incentive conditions.

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