Obtaining Sensitive Information From a Wary Population: A Comparison of Telephone and Face-to-Face Surveys

William Alex Pridemore, Indiana University/Harvard University
Kelly Damphousse, University of Oklahoma
Rebecca K. Moore, State of Oklahoma

This study evaluates the feasibility and utility of employing telephone and face-to-face surveys to identify substance abuse and treatment needs among welfare recipients. Estimating levels of drug and alcohol abuse and assessing the need for treatment services requires asking individuals about sensitive and socially undesirable behavior. The potential response bias is exacerbated when the population under study might be wary -- because of their status with the government -- of providing truthful information about illegal behavior. While computer-assisted telephone interviewing may be more efficient than face-to-face interviewing, undertaking surveys in person can be advantageous in this situation. One key benefit is that it may be easier to create a rapport between the interviewer and the respondent, thereby establishing the greater level of trust necessary when asking sensitive questions of waryt subjects. Here, we present the differences by mode of survey administration in sensitive questions related to drug use and need for treatment. Results are discussed in terms of their importance to survey methodology and to obtaining sensitive information from wary populations.

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Updated 05/20/2006