Surveyors meet in Jaipur
My piece for last week, originally titled “Letter from Jaipur,” vanished somewhere into the ether when my ancient iPad crashed, at the end of the annual meeting of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), held in India for the first time.
ISSP (www.issp.org) is a cross-country consortium of research institutions that do a scientific nationwide survey each year on a mutually-agreed topic, with a common questionnaire, for the express purpose of comparing the countries they represent.
ISSP started in 1984, with members from Australia, Germany, Great Britain and the United States. Social Weather Stations became its 12th member in 1990, and has done all 28 ISSP surveys of 1991-2018. Now ISSP has 42 members, of which 31 attended in Jaipur.
ISSP operates on democratic principles. It decides the survey topics, who should draft the questionnaires, and the exact phrasing of survey questions, by a one-country-one-vote system. The official base language of the questionnaire is British English; translations into the national languages are done by the members.
There is no membership fee, but each member finances its own national survey, and its cost of attending the annual meeting, where voting is done in plenary. These are serious burdens that not all have been able to meet. Each submits its raw country-data and home-language questionnaires to the central archive (in Germany), which combines them into a global dataset available for free to all, including nonmembers.
The first ISSP survey module, in 1985, was on Role of Government. (It is called a module since usually it is not implemented all by itself, but as a part of a broader social survey.) Other modules have been Social Networks, Social Inequality, Family and Changing Gender Roles, Work Orientations, Religion, Environment, National Identity, Social Relations and Support Systems, Citizenship, Leisure Time and Sports, and Health. Modules are repeated periodically to enable analysis over time.
The typical sample size per country is 1,000-plus. Statistical quality depends on the absolute number of respondents; their proportion of the population is irrelevant. In 2014, for example, the ISSP sample sizes of 1,200 in the Philippines, 1,264 in the United States, 1,209 in gigantic India (1.4 billion people), and 1,497 in tiny Iceland (340,000 people) were equally accurate.
For the 2019 ISSP survey topic of Social Inequality, SWS will complete the Philippine fieldwork soon, far ahead of the deadline for submission of data by September 2020. For the 2020 topic of Environment, the Jaipur meeting discussed and voted on each and every draft questionnaire item. It decided that the 2021 topic would be Health and Health Care, and elected India, Slovakia, Sweden, Thailand and Turkey to draft and pretest the questionnaire.
The venue of the meeting rotates. In Jaipur we were hosted by CVoter (Centre for Voting Opinion and Trends in Election Research), a private research company headed by Yashwant Deshmukh. It arranged a visit to Agra for the Taj Mahal—on everyone’s bucket list—and an audience in Delhi with Hon. Sumitra Mahajan, speaker of the Lok Sabha or parliament.
CVoter is very busy with exit polling for the current Lok Sabha election, done in phases across seven zones of India, one week at a time. Yashwant says there are only enough police to look after one zone at a time, and the voting machines have to be transferred from zone to zone. The full national exit poll results will be released to a media syndicate after the close of voting on the last voting day; the official count is due a week later.
Next year, ISSP will meet in chilly Iceland (expected temperature 7 degrees), a relief from sweltering India (presently 43 degrees)!
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