Just How Accurate is That Web Survey?

Just How Accurate is That Web Survey? surveys & polls Online surveys are the backbone of everything from tech reporting to political deal-making, but have you ever wondered whether the survey group matches the population?

I've always wondered, and now thanks to the Pew Research Center we have an answer, just not one that you will like.

Yesterday Pew published the results of a study which looked at past surveys conducted both online and off, and contrasted the different answers given for online respondents vs those who asked to get a copy of the survey in the mail.

According to Pew, around 18% of the survey responses were completed on paper. After collating the results of 406 questions asked in surveys spread over  15 months, Pew found that those who fill out the paper survey by mail tended to be older, single, less well educated, and earned less than those that answered the survey online.

Virtually all (90%) of the offline respondents were over the age of 50. Half had a HS diploma or less (compared to 18% of the overall group), and 42% earned less than $20,000 a year (vs 14% of the overall group). The offline respondents were also twice as likely to live alone (44% vs 20% overall). And finally, those who fill out the paper survey by mail were also twice as likely to be black (16%, vs 7% overall).

Pew's study found that the offline respondents were less likely to use the internet regularly or even have a computer, tablet, or smartphone:

Just How Accurate is That Web Survey? surveys & polls

To put it simply, Pew has demonstrated the existence of the digital divide, the social and economic problem resulting from poorer and less well-educated members of our society lacking the same access to computers and the web as you or I.

This, folks, is why many argue that we need well-funded libraries and tech in schools. The modern library has long been viewed as a way for the common man to improve himself, and in the 21st century that means giving the populace access to tech and other resources that not all can afford on their own.

As David Rothman would remind us, it's not just the gadgetry, but also access to all the information available online: medical, technical, educational, and financial. The fact that so many don't have access is the most important detail in this study, and not whether someone got on Facebook yesterday, IMO.

image by hildgrim

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

3 Comments

  1. Smart Debut Author24 September, 2015

    Yep, that pretty much sums up the recent Authors Guild survey.

    The digital divide clearly applies in publishing, too.

    Reply
  2. Online opinion polls and the digital divide: Smart commentary from Nate | TeleRead25 September, 2015

    […] Now, via stats from a Pew survey, Nate over at The Digital Reader has in effect documented more evidence of media cluelessness on divide matters. He’s shown how online opinion surveys can be unreliable. They don’t precisely reflect the […]

    Reply
  3. […] have an equal chance at answering the survey. Digital discrimination means whole communities who lack access to online data are being overlooked. If the group you’re studying doesn’t have reliable […]

    Reply

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