Because of changes due to the pandemic, in June 2020 the University of Wisconsin Survey Center’s Faculty Director Nora Cate Schaeffer became the first president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) to give her presidential address from Madison, Wisconsin. Her address, Far from Ordinary Questions: Task Difficulty, Motivation, and Measurement Practice, urged researchers to consider how our questions are experienced by respondents. When questions are particularly difficult for some groups in a target population, the comparability of measurement for all units in a population is reduced. Questions that respondents find difficult or irrelevant may undermine their motivation to take the work of answering seriously. Some challenges to improving the practice of measurement in surveys arise because — under the constraints of limited time, budget, and staff – we borrow questions, give them authority based on their source, assert that we need to replicate them to make comparisons, and fail to fully examine claims that they have been validated. Although the constraints are real, these practices limit our ability to take full advantage of advances in research about instrument design to improve the quality of measurement in surveys. Nora Cate noted that AAPOR presidential addresses so far have given little attention to the experience of respondents and interviewers. However, examining the way real respondents experience survey questions is key to improving measurement. You can view the address here.
Nora Cate has taught graduate (and recently undergraduate) courses in survey methodology and measurement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since she came here in 1984. Students and faculty from a wide range of departments in addition to sociology – School of Medicine and Public Health, Pharmacy, Industrial Engineering, Political Science, Nelson Institute, and Education – have taken these courses, increasing awareness of the science underlying measurement decisions across disciplines. She has served as the Faculty Director of the UW Survey Center since 2003. The presidential address marks the transition to a final year of service for AAPOR as Past President.