Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Web surveys: Coverage or nonresponse error?

I've been reading a bit on mixed-mode surveys. I've noticed several discussions of web surveys and coverage error. This is a relatively recent mode, and one of the key issues has been to what extent the population has access to the internet. If someone doesn't have access to the internet, they can't complete a web survey. Everyone agrees upon that.

But how do we describe the source of this error? Is it coverage or nonresponse error?

In my mind, coverage error is a property of the sampling frame. If the unit is not on the sampling frame, then it is not covered. But many web surveys are general population surveys that don't have a tight association with a frame. That is, since there is not "internet" sampling frame in the way we have RDD or area probability samples. Many surveys start today from ABS sampling and then might do telephone, mail, web, or mixed-mode designs. In this case, a lack of internet access is an impediment to responding and not an impediment to being sampled. So, in my view, in those situations, this is nonresponse error.