On a quest for data

My blog post about Native Americans being left out of demographic surveys has raised some interesting questions: Is there a better methodology for surveying “small sample-size groups” and how can data on Native Americans become more accessible?

Let me first follow up on the Twitter survey, published by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, which found that Twitter had more racial diversity in its users than Internet users. A story that appeared Monday in the Wall Street Journal said that Twitter was using the study as a basis to gain more advertisers. When I learned that the study did not give survey results for Native Americans, I contacted the Internet and American Life Project and blogged about the responses in my previous post.

I am searching for some expert opinions about how demographic survey methods could be approached differently so that data gathered from “small sample-size groups” would be statistically valid.

In the meantime, I have learned that the Twitter study was conducted by telephone interviews. Here is the methodology for that survey, which is posted on project’s website:

Interviewing conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, August 7 – September 16, 2013 and based on 1,801 telephone interviews. Sample: National adult. 901 respondents were interviewed on a land-line telephone, and 900 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 482 who had no land-line telephone.

Aaron W. Smith, senior researcher at Pew’s Internet and American Life Project, said in an emailed response on Tuesday that it is cost-prohibitive for his organization to expand its reach to Native Americans and other “small-incidence groups,” although he did not give a dollar figure. He said, “It’s possible that we will be able to increase some of that small-group coverage as we potentially move to greater usage of online surveys in the future, but at least for the moment phone polling is our bread and butter for a variety of reasons.”

But perhaps a greater question is how to get accurate information on Native American individuals and tribes.

In a case study about data collection in Indian Country, Native journalist Mark Trahant explains the complexities in gathering important statistics, especially in the area of health care. In his words, it’s “a mess.”

I agree with his view that data gathering is crucial for Native Americans because the numbers drive policy and funding.

“It’s why the country and the American Indian/Alaska Native community needs to make sense of what data is available — even if a mess — to shape discussion, policy and action,” Trahant concluded in his case study. “The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, while far from perfect, collects a vast amount of general information about American Indian and Alaska Native people. It demonstrates how people work, move and where they live (remember, most Native Americans live in cities).”

For a long time I have been disheartened at Native Americans being left out of important studies, and I have accepted the excuse that our numbers have been too small to compare with the larger population. That’s no longer an acceptable answer for me. I am on a quest to find a better way. Stay tuned.


2 thoughts on “On a quest for data

  1. Appreciate your perspective. Afraid I am a cynic and can’t help but reckon that one reason for the dearth of data is that non-Indians don’t care very much what Indians think–unless our voices have an economic impact. Look forward to hearing more.

  2. I hadn’t allowed myself to think that people don’t care. But the more I ponder your comment, Cynthia, the more I want to challenge the notion that it’s OK to leave Native Americans out of so many important demographic studies. Thanks for your comment. More blog posts on this topic are coming up.

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