Public opinion research is entering a new era, one in which traditional survey research may play a less dominant role. The proliferation of new technologies, such as mobile devices and social media platforms, are changing the societal landscape across which public opinion researchers operate. The ways in which people both access and share information about opinions, attitudes, and behaviors have gone through perhaps a greater transformation in the last decade than in any previous point in history and this trend appears likely to continue. The rapid adoption of smartphones and ubiquity of social media are interconnected trends which may provide researchers with new data collection tools and alternative sources of information to augment or, in some cases, provide alternatives to more traditional data collection methods. However, this brave new world is not without its share of issues and pitfalls – technological, statistical, methodological, and ethical.
As the leading association of public opinion research professionals, AAPOR is uniquely situated to examine and assess the potential impact of these “emerging technologies” on the broader discipline and industry of opinion research. In September 2012, AAPOR Council approved the formation of the Emerging Technologies Task Force with the goal of focusing on two critical areas: smartphones as data collection vehicles and social media as platform and information source. The purposes of the task force are to: define and delineate the scope and landscape of each area; describe the potential impact in terms of quality, efficiency, timeliness and analytic reach; discuss opportunities and challenges based on available research; delineate some of the key legal and ethical considerations; and detail the gaps in our understanding and propose avenues of future research. The report here examines the potential impact of mobile technologies on public opinion research – as a vehicle for facilitating some aspect of the survey research process (i.e., recruitment, questionnaire administration, reducing burden, etc.) and/or augmenting or replacing traditional survey research methods (i.e., location data, visual data, and the like).