The Pew Research Center’s latest study found that the response rates for telephone surveys continues to decline. In 2018, the yearly response rate was just 6%, down from 7% in 2017. It held steady at 9% in 2012 through 2016, but even that rate is much lower than where it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 1997, the response rate to telephone surveys was 36%. Though the rates began to decline over the next decade, they still remained above 20% in 2001 (28%) through 2006 (21%).
Automated telephone surveys and telemarketing calls have rapidly increased in recent years, attributing to this decline in survey responses. Americans hang up the phone or have programs on their telephones that block survey calls, forcing the polling industry to continuously evolve with changing technologies. For example, when more and more Americans opted for cellphone-only households over the traditional landlines, pollsters had to incorporate live-dial cellphone calls. Now, as anemic telephone survey response rates possibly distort a survey’s findings, pollsters must find ways to supplement their polls with online samples and other means. Some will do away with telephone surveys all together and conduct online-only polling, as Pew has chosen to do. There are risks to that as well, as online samples cannot be verified as easily as phone respondents, but the process may improve as more and more outfits explore online-only samples.