Better Guidance and Controls Are Needed To Improve Federal Surveys of Attitudes and Opinions

Gao ID: GGD-78-24 September 15, 1978

Attitude surveys and public opinion polls are used to obtain data, by means of interviews or questionnaires, from scientifically selected members of a specified universe. As information collection activities, opinion polls and attitude surveys are subject to the forms clearance provisions of the Federal Reports Act. As statistical surveys, they are subject to the standards and guidelines promulgated by the Department of Commerce's Office of Federal Statistical Policy and Standards (OFSPS).

The OFSPS' "Standards for Statistical Surveys" does not provide adequate guidance for federal agencies that survey public attitudes and opinions. The guidance does not consider that contractors are used extensively to perform surveys and polls and that federal agencies need guidance in contracting for surveys and in evaluating proposals submitted by contractors. The clearance review and approval process does not assure compliance with statistical standards and does not ensure that collected data are accurate and reliable. A review of five surveys conducted by federal agencies revealed that conclusions may be misleading; survey procedures were poorly conducted and controlled; and inadequate planning and data analysis limited validity and reliability of results.


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