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Analysis of Response Rates in Public Opinion Research

Subject Matter

Phoenix was commissioned by the Public Affairs Branch of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to undertake research, analysis and recommendations concerning response rates in public opinion research. The main focus of the study was on response rates achieved by the public opinion research (POR) community in North America, although some information from other geographical areas was also included in the analysis. The Office of the Auditor General raised concern with material that is based on surveys with low response rates, and suggested the use of a standard for response rates. Given the amount of literature and debate on the subject of response rates, CRA wanted a resource document to be developed on the subject to guide its activities in this area.


This was secondary research and did not involve data collection. It comprised three main activities: a comprehensive literature review that included a mix of viewpoints from various sources (e.g. academia, government, industry leaders, and professional associations), an analysis of the material obtained through the literature review, and production of a report and set of recommendations vis--vis response rates. The individuals and organizations consulted, and their publications and studies, represent most of the core players on the issue of response rates in North America. In total, over 20 academics, universities and research institutes were consulted, two dozen POR practitioners (within industry and government), a dozen professional and/or industry associations, about the same number of major research firms in Canada, and numerous government departments and statistical agencies (both Canadian and American).

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