Surveyors meet in Finland | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Surveyors meet in Finland

Last May 24-28, Social Weather Stations had the annual pleasure of meeting its colleagues in the International Social Survey Program (, the network with the best data for comparing social attitudes of Filipinos with other nationalities.

For instance, it is the ISSP surveys that show Filipinos much more tolerant of the Church’s power, and of its meddling in elections and government decisions, than other dominantly Catholic peoples like Italians, Mexicans, and Spaniards (see my “Tolerance of church interference,” Opinion, 3/23/2013).


ISSP is a nonprofit consortium that does annual cross-national social surveys, to combine into global datasets for free public use.  This year’s meeting was in Tampere (pronounced Tam-pe-re, stressing each syllable, like tam-a-rind), the third-largest city of Finland.  It is at 61 degrees latitude—like Anchorage, Alaska.  Sunrise was at 4 a.m., and sunset at 11 p.m.; soon there will be “white nights.”  The weather was unusual—the daytime rather hot (29 degrees C) in the early days, and then seasonally cool (10 degrees C) later on.

In Finland, the ISSP survey is the joint work of the University of Tampere’s department of sociology and social psychology, Statistics Finland, and the Finnish Social Science Data Archive, which handle organization, fieldwork, and archival, respectively.  Their hospitality included letting us sample local customs of sauna-bathing (complete with flagellation by leafy birch twigs) and dining on reindeer meat.


ISSP is a sturdy, collegially-run body.  Its governing body is a secretariat (presently Israel) and a standing committee of four (presently Belgium, Croatia, the Philippines and the United States), chosen by vote for staggered terms.  Its 48 members are responsible for their own survey and travel costs. They pledge to survey statistically representative samples of at least 1,000 adults—the gold standard for a national survey—on a commonly-agreed topic (called a “module”), using exactly the same questionnaire for module items and background items.

An ISSP module is limited to 60 items, to allow space for non-ISSP topics that the members wish to survey also.  The modules, the members of questionnaire drafting groups, and the final wordings of survey questions are all decided by majority vote.

ISSP, founded in 1984, has had survey modules on Role of Government (1985, 1990, 1996, 2006), Social Networks (1986, 2001), Social Inequality (1987, 1992, 1999, 2009, and 2016 forthcoming), Family and Changing Gender Roles (1988, 1994, 2002), Work Orientations (1989, 1997, 2005, and 2015 forthcoming), Religion (1991, 1998, 2008), Environment (1993, 2000, 2010), National Identity (1995, 2003, 2013), Citizenship (2004, 2014), Leisure and Sports (2007), and Health (2011).  Each case of replication involves maintaining 40 module items, for analysis over time, and replacing 20 items with new ones.

SWS became a member in 1990, and has implemented all ISSP surveys thereafter, or a total of 24 during 1991-2014. The Philippines is among the top five countries in terms of meeting deadlines for submission of ISSP datasets.  Attention, social scientists: 24 surveys times 60 items each equals 1,440 data items already available, in addition to standard demographics, for scientifically comparing Filipinos with other nationalities.

Example: Pride in the country’s history, 2003.  The 2003 ISSP survey on National Identity included questions about pride in the respondent’s country with respect to several criteria, one being the country’s history.  The answer choices were (a) Very proud, (b) Somewhat proud, (c) Not very proud, and (d) Not at all proud.

For the 36 countries with data, the responses were: (a) 36 percent, (b) 44 percent, (c) 15 percent, and (d) 5 percent.  Among Filipinos, the percentages were (a) 46, (b) 39, (c) 12, and (d) 3.

(I chose history for this example because it is what gives Filipinos the most pride.)  On the other hand, other Asian peoples in ISSP were all below average in being very proud of their history: South Koreans and Japanese, 27 percent; and Taiwan, 21 percent.  Among Americans, it was 61 percent.


Example: Taking part in a demonstration, 2004.  The 2004 ISSP survey on Citizenship had a question on whether, as part of political or social action, the respondent had (a) taken part in a demonstration in the past year, (b) taken part in a demonstration in the more distant past, (c) had not done it but might do it sometime, or (d) had not done it and would never do it.

In the total dataset of 39 countries, response (a) got 6 percent, (b) got 18 percent, (c) got 29 percent, and (d) got 49 percent.  Among Filipinos, however, the percentages were: (a) 3, (b) 7, (c) 10, and (d) 80.  The Philippines and Hungary were tied for the highest proportion that would never take part in a demonstration.

The other Asian countries of ISSP also had majority percentages that would never join a demonstration: Japan 75, Taiwan 73, and South Korea 54.  In the United States, however, the percentage was only 40.

Next year, in Cape Town.  At Tampere, we accepted the proposal of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) of South Africa to host the 2015 annual ISSP meeting in Cape Town.  Since 2003, HSRC has done an annual South African Social Attitudes Survey.  It is the vehicle for ISSP in South Africa, much like the Social Weather Survey for ISSP in the Philippines.

I imagine that many ISSP members are now looking forward to a safari, and, perhaps, dining on (unendangered) antelope meat?

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TAGS: Finland, International Social Survey Program, survey, SWS
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