Respondent Representivity

  • 10 April 2023
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While nonprobability-based surveys are a great way to engage a lot of residents, it can be hard to know whether you’re reaching a representative sample of your community. The demographics of those who respond to a survey are not always aligned with the total population: some demographic groups (such as young adults and renters) often respond at lower rates, which may cause them to be underrepresented in survey results. For this reason, Polco’s Engage module automatically provides representivity visualizations for all nonprobability-based surveys.


Why use these representivity visualizations?

These graphs can help you:

  • identify which groups are responding at lower levels (proportionate to your community)
  • see where additional outreach may be needed
  • adjust your communication and outreach efforts accordingly
  • understand how representative your results are

How to use representivity graphs

Because representivity graphs rely on participants’ demographic data, you’ll need to include Polco’s pre-built demographic questions about age, race, and gender on surveys. While some respondent demographic data may come from voter registration records, the vast majority is gathered through user-reported answers to these specific demographic questions. Including these questions on your surveys will minimize the percentage of unknown respondent data and help you use these visualizations most effectively.

Reading your representivity graphs

On the Participation tab of an active survey, you’ll see bar graphs illustrating representation levels for certain demographics (e.g., gender, age, and race), both for survey participants and the entire community.

Each graph includes a dropdown menu to switch between data reported by the respondent and voter registration data. The percentage unknown for each type of respondent data is shown directly below. 

In each graph, the first bar illustrates the proportion of total respondents identifying as that given demographic. This survey-level data is set against demographic data for the entire community (provided by the Census and American Community Survey) in the next column. Hovering your cursor over a set of bars will show the specific proportions for each. 

Understanding your data

Viewing the side-by-side comparison of survey participants vs. community members allows you to easily visualize which audiences your survey is successfully reaching, and which others may benefit from additional, targeted outreach to increase participation. Bringing more voices into the conversation is an important component for gathering complete data that represents your entire community! If additional outreach isn’t an option, these graphs also help you consider the accuracy of your results (based on the representativeness of your respondents) and whether decisions can be made in confidence.

In addition, Polco also offers an optional automatic weighting feature to balance any discrepancies you might see in those graphs and increase the overall representivity of your data. Together, these tools help ensure that your existing and future survey efforts are as representative of your larger community as possible. 

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