, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 415-440
Date: 19 Jul 2007

Beyond the “Narrow Data Base”: Another Convenience Sample for Experimental Research

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The experimental approach has begun to permeate political science research, increasingly so in the last decade. Laboratory researchers face at least two challenges: determining who to study and how to lure them into the lab. Most experimental studies rely on student samples, yet skeptics often dismiss student samples for lack of external validity. In this article, we propose another convenience sample for laboratory research: campus staff. We report on a randomized experiment to investigate the characteristics of samples drawn from a general local population and from campus staff. We report that campus staff evidence significantly higher response rates, and we find few discernible differences between the two samples. We also investigate the second challenge facing researchers: how to lure subjects into the lab. We use evidence from three focus groups to identify ways of luring this alternative convenience sample into the lab. We analyze the impact of self-interest, social-utility, and neutral appeals on encouraging study participation, and we find that campus staff respond better to a no-nonsense approach compared to a hard-sell that promises potential policy benefits to the community or, and especially, to the self. We conclude that researchers should craft appeals with caution as they capitalize on this heretofore largely untapped reservoir for experimental research: campus employees.