The Angus Reid Institute conducts its polling entirely through online research— surveys or studies conducted on the Internet via a personal computer, tablet or smartphone. We have made the decision to conduct our research solely through online means because traditional telephone based approaches to collecting survey data have become increasingly problematic in the past decade. Unprecedented refusal rates, technology barriers and declining coverage have all made telephone interviewing a challenge in much of the developed world. This type of research is quickly becoming little more than “phone spam”. Alternative approaches are needed by organizations and institutions that require an accurate reading of the public mood, online research fills this gap.
The Angus Reid Institute conducts its online research through the Angus Reid Forum, Canada’s leading online research panel established in 2006. The Angus Reid Forum, and the Angus Reid Institute, are separate entities.
The appeal of online methods is that they provide a far richer environment for measuring public opinion. The online environment presents respondents with highly visual, interactive, and engaging surveys, ensuring that people provide thoughtful and true-to-life responses to questions tackling complex subject matter. Pictures, audio and video clips become part of the experience for respondents, who are not asked to remember something they might have seen or heard, but presented with the opportunity to see and hear it.
Finally, online panels allow researchers to delve into areas of respondent perception and experience that are simply impossible to penetrate via the traditional telephone survey. This includes detailed surveys of health conditions, personal experience with abuse, and detailed inventories of household possessions.
Unlike most telephone surveys where the relationship between study participants and researchers is fleeting, anonymous and largely devoid of commitment; most successful online research requires transparency, physical or symbolic incentives and trust.
What’s an online panel?
Sending online surveys to a random sample of the population is not possible in an era of anti-spam regulations. Unlike traditional telephone based sampling practices, where random calling is considered a methodology of preference, effective online research requires a significant investment in establishing respondent participation and engagement. Potential respondents must be invited into the survey process using a wide variety of methods and channels. Since the investment associated with this invitation process can be significant, it is increasingly attractive methodologically to invite potential survey participants to a situation where they agree to respond to more than one survey. Those who agree to consider taking multiple surveys are referred to as “panelists” and the group which they belong to, in the eyes of a research practitioner, are referred to as “community panels”. These communities can consist of groups as small as several hundred members to vast communities in the tens of thousands.
The methodological advantage in the online world is that panelists typically share background demographic information which forms part of their “profile”. This profile is an essential tool for sampling and analysis purposes, meaning that respondents will not be asked to continually answer questions about gender, age and where they live, etc.
The Angus Reid Forum recruits via a widespread invitation approach and a double opt-in screening procedure. Willing respondents are recruited through targeted banner ad placements in an extensive array of websites and through partnerships with non-governmental and charitable organizations. This approach ensures an appropriate demographic balance that captures the diversity across all sub-segments of the population.
These community panels are maintained through advanced sampling techniques and frequent verifications of personal identity, contact information, and demographic characteristics. Relying on a combination of sampling regions based upon configurations of electoral districts and past voting trends, the Angus Reid Forum panels reflect the general population by continually verifying and recruiting so that the socio-demographic characteristics of each sampling region match actual sub-populations according to both the census and electoral data.
There are almost 130,000 households in the Angus Reid Forum.
Today, the level of Internet penetration in the developed world is very high. Approximately 28.5 million Canadians have online access either at home or at work, with most having access at both locations. Online access in Canada has spread to every significant demographic group, including seniors, youth, and people with above and below average household incomes. Comparatively, telephone surveys face continually declining response rates. Often, fewer than ten per cent of North American adults agree to participate in a telephone survey.
The Angus Reid Forum contains enough people in each major demographic group to draw randomized samples that represent the population as a whole. In order to ensure that all of our online research accurately represents the public in terms of both demographics and attitudes, our surveys are based upon representative samples from each panel that are randomized and statistically weighted according to the most current demographic and regional voting data available.
When the Angus Reid Institute conducts a survey on the Angus Reid Forum, the first step is to create a balanced sample matrix of the Canadian population. A randomized sample of Angus Reid Forum members are then selected to match this matrix. The selected community members later receive an e-mail invitation and are asked to complete the survey by clicking on a link to our secure online survey platform. In order to participate in the survey, these members must log in with their username and password. It is important to note that our panelists do not receive survey invitations too often or repeatedly on the same subject.
Respondents receive a small monetary incentive —from $1 to $5 —for completing each survey, as well as occasional prize draws. This encourages respondents to participate regardless of subject matter. The accumulated incentive cheques are delivered by mail, providing another opportunity for identity verification. The Angus Reid Forum abides by strict confidentiality and privacy guidelines. The personal information of our community members is never divulged to anyone.
Misconceptions About Polling
Web polls are inadequate. Anyone can take part and skew the sample.
A survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute through the Angus Reid Forum should not be confused with the millions of “quick polls” (or “instant web polls”) that appear in websites all over the world. These “quick polls” serve to take the pulse of visitors to a specific website, but are neither scientific nor descriptive of any particular population. While the “quick polls” do elicit the opinion of web users, their results—usually accompanied by a disclaimer— should never hold the clout of a representative survey. The polls conducted by the Angus Reid Institute through the Angus Reid Forum are always accompanied by a section that describes the methodology in detail; number of interviews, dates, and margin of error. From time to time, “quick polls” are used as a device to recruit new panel members by the Angus Reid Forum. However, their results are never reported to the public.
An online panel cannot represent the entire population.
One of the misguided observations about online polling alleges that certain segments of the population are underrepresented, making a credible sample unattainable. The Angus Reid Forum has enough panelists from every basic demographic group in Canada to guarantee that samples are representative of the entire adult population. Still, gathering interviews is only one step in the process. Every survey requires a procedure known as weighting. This exercise, an essential component of public opinion research, entails interpreting the responses in accordance with up-to-date social and demographic data. This ensures that the make-up of a constituency (a city, a province or state, or the whole country) is carefully represented within the sample, in areas such as gender, age, and income.
An online panel does not allow for random selection.
Other critics claim that online polling is biased, because people choose to become panelists in order to respond to surveys themselves, instead of being picked at random through a list of telephone numbers. This argument erroneously assumes that every person will be asked to take part in every online poll at every time. Invitations for particular surveys are sent to a randomly selected portion of the Angus Reid Forum, to ensure a representative sample.