Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Turning the tables on survey research

Just got off the phone with the Gallup pollster. I am one of their ~1000 person sample on their current health survey. When they asked my profession, I said that I was a survey researcher with health topics, and we both laughed. The coincidence was uncanny.

They ask important questions like approval of the president towards the beginning, along with the 1 question health assessment. They asked if I felt like I was treated with respect at work yesterday, a couple of other working conditions questions, income, and hours, personal stock market investment, as well as pessimism/optimism about economic growth, stock market, personal investment, employment, inflation. Also asked contextual questions such as satisfaction with neighborhood quality, safety, commute time to work.

The questions were of course cursory, such as giving only 2 or 3 option answers (satisfied or not, sometimes a neutral option). No questions had branching options, so every question was asked to every respondent, so only missing data should be due to people hanging up in the middle. The stock market investment quantity was phrased on a logarithmic scale, so above or below 10k, and then presumably other questions.

A couple of the questions were surprisingly badly worded, such as this double-barreled question, "Are you satisfied with the price and availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in your neighborhood?" Lots of availability but high prices here in Dupont Circle.

Short questions require respondents to define the categories themselves. For instance, they asked how many days out of the last 7 days have I exercised. I don't consider walking to be exercise, even walking for 5 miles. I haven't lifted weights or swam in the past week, so I said that I haven't exercised at all. In retrospect, probably it would have been more accurate to say a few days since I have walked more than 5 miles a few times this week.

Two questions I would have been interested in is whether people have a pet, since that goes with the health theme --- people with pets may have better health situation, and everyone likes to hear about pets. Another question is whether single people have a steady romantic relationship since "single" is a big and diverse category, and having a romantic partner could affect health and health outcomes. Of course I would have also liked to know whether people had sex recently, and whether they have safe sex, but I know that Gallup wouldn't do that.

Altogether, it was a 14 minute survey, and they are gathering a dataset that could furnish many papers on the connection between working conditions, attitudes towards the broader economy, political attitudes, and both mental and physical health. I wonder whether they will use the data for that purpose, or if they will just do the univariate and basic bivariate summaries. For sure, I'd appreciate the chance to analyze the data, if I could ever find the time.