Research Reports

You are here: Census.govSubjects A to ZResearch Reports Sorted by Year › Abstract of RSM2008/05
Skip top of page navigation

“CENSUS BUREAU” vs. “UNKNOWN CALLER”: Caller-ID Displays and Survey Cooperation

Aniekan Okon, Jeffrey Moore, and Nancy Bates

KEY WORDS: attrition, auspices, call attempts, contact, efficiency, nonresponse, refusal, sponsorship, telephone interview


Survey sponsorship is known to play an important role in eliciting survey cooperation, and research also suggests that government-sponsored surveys enjoy higher cooperation rates than non-government surveys. The U.S. Census Bureau generally seeks to take advantage of this fact, and its particular name recognition, when contacting American households and businesses to conduct its census and survey operations. Thus the Census Bureau responded with some alarm when it was discovered that outgoing calls from its telephone call centers were displaying UNKNOWN CALLER on Caller-ID systems, an unanticipated result of displaying a toll-free number for respondents return calls. In the fall of 2005 the Census Bureau took action to remedy the situation, and return to a "US CENSUS BUREAU" Caller-ID display. This paper reports on an evaluation of the extent to which the intended change actually occurred, as well as a before-and-after investigation of the impact of the procedural change on respondent cooperation. The implementation evaluation consists of the results of test calls from each of the Census Bureau’s three telephone call centers to the Caller-ID-equipped home telephones of two Census Bureau field staff in each state (approximately 300 calls, in total). These calls reveal a very hit-and-miss implementation of the intended display – “US CENSUS BUREAU” or a close variant appeared in only 56% of the calls – with substantial variation across different states and regions. To assess the impacts of the Caller-ID “switch,” we examine two Census Bureau surveys – the Telephone Point of Purchase Survey (TPOPS), a survey using random-digit-dialing sampling methods, and the American Community Survey (ACS), a survey that uses telephone interviewing as a first stage nonresponse follow-up to a mailed questionnaire. We find some evidence, in both survey contexts, of small positive impacts on both the efficiency and extent of contact with potential respondents, and on the likelihood of cooperation with an initial telephone interview. Evidence concerning the impact of the switch on cooperation with a subsequent TPOPS interview request (attrition) is decidedly mixed, however.

CITATION: This is an extended version of a paper presented as a “methodological brief” at the 62nd Annual Conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Anaheim, CA, May 17-20, 2007.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Research Division

Created: April 8, 2008
Last revised: April 8, 2008

[PDF] or PDF denotes a file in Adobe’s Portable Document Format. To view the file, you will need the Adobe® Reader® Off Site available free from Adobe.

This symbol Off Site indicates a link to a non-government web site. Our linking to these sites does not constitute an endorsement of any products, services or the information found on them. Once you link to another site you are subject to the policies of the new site.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Statistical Research Division | (301) 763-3215 (or |   Last Revised: October 08, 2010