Development of an international survey attitude scale: measurement equivalence, reliability, and predictive validity
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Declining response rates worldwide have stimulated interest in understanding what may be influencing this decline and how it varies across countries and survey populations. In this paper, we describe the development and validation of a short 9-item survey attitude scale that measures three important constructs, thought by many scholars to be related to decisions to participate in surveys, that is, survey enjoyment, survey value, and survey burden. The survey attitude scale is based on a literature review of earlier work by multiple authors. Our overarching goal with this study is to develop and validate a concise and effective measure of how individuals feel about responding to surveys that can be implemented in surveys and panels to understand the willingness to participate in surveys and improve survey effectiveness. The research questions relate to factor structure, measurement equivalence, reliability, and predictive validity of the survey attitude scale.
The data came from three probability-based panels: the German GESIS and PPSM panels and the Dutch LISS panel. The survey attitude scale proved to have a replicable three-dimensional factor structure (survey enjoyment, survey value, and survey burden). Partial scalar measurement equivalence was established across three panels that employed two languages (German and Dutch) and three measurement modes (web, telephone, and paper mail). For all three dimensions of the survey attitude scale, the reliability of the corresponding subscales (enjoyment, value, and burden) was satisfactory. Furthermore, the scales correlated with survey response in the expected directions, indicating predictive validity.
KeywordsSurvey value survey burden survey enjoyment online panel factor structure measurement equivalence reliability validity
Survey nonresponse has been a concern for many years, and nonresponse rates have been increasing over time around the world (de Leeuw and de Heer, 2002; Stoop, 2005). Increasing nonresponse trends have been documented both in the USA (Atrostic, Bates, Burt, and Silberstein, 2001; Curtin, Presser, and Singer, 2005; Williams and Brick, 2017) and Europe (Beullens, Loosveldt, Vandenplas, and Stoop, 2018; de Leeuw, Hox, and Luiten, 2018; Luiten, de Leeuw, and Hox, 2018).
An important theoretical concept for explaining survey nonresponse is the survey-taking climate (Groves and Couper, 1998; Loosveldt and Joye, 2016; Lyberg and Lyberg, 1990) and countries can differ in response rates and survey climate (Stoop, Billiet, Koch, and Fitzgerald, 2010). Survey climate is dependent on both the social environment (e.g., general concerns on privacy and confidentiality) and individual determinants (e.g., attitudes on surveys). As macro-level aspects of the survey climate (e.g., privacy issues) are reflected at an individual level in the attitudes and opinions of the public, respondents’ attitudes about surveys are considered to be a major aspect of the survey climate (Loosveldt and Storms, 2008; Loosveldt and Joye, 2016; Yan and Datta, 2015).
To study survey climate, researchers have implemented special methodological “surveys on surveys” using long questionnaires to measure respondents’ attitudes about surveys; prime examples are the studies by Goyder (1986), Loosveldt and Storms (2008), and Stocké and Langfeldt (2004). In substantive surveys, survey attitude is often measured by including just a single question about the survey experience. With a single question, however, it is not possible to assess its validity or reliability. Recognizing that in substantive surveys space and respondent time are limited, there is a need for short but still reliable measurement instruments (Rammstedt and John, 2007). This need became even stronger with the growing use of online research and online panels. Therefore, we started a project to develop and validate a short international survey attitude scale.
The goal of this project was to develop an instrument that is short and easy to implement in both online and in mixed-mode surveys, has good psychometric properties, and will be valid cross-culturally. Therefore, our main research questions focus on the factor structure and measurement equivalence across countries and data collection mode, and the reliability and predictive validity of the instrument developed.
Development of a Dutch and German version of the survey attitude scale
In psychology, the theory of reasoned action links attitudes to behavior. According to the theory of reasoned action, action is guided by behavioral intention, which is influenced by perceived norms and subjective attitudes (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980). In turn, attitudes are considered as the evaluative beliefs about an attitude object. Consistent with this background, and in contrast to existing longer instruments that concentrate on measuring a general survey attitude (e.g., Hox, de Leeuw, and Vorst, 2015; Stocké and Langfeldt, 2004), we aimed at a multidimensional measurement instrument.
An international literature search on empirical studies that investigated general attitudes and opinions on surveys resulted in three clear theoretical dimensions: two positive and one negative dimension could be distinguished that have recognizable roots in the survey methodology literature (Dillman, Smyth and Christina, 2014; Groves, 1989; Groves and Couper, 1998; Stoop et al. 2010). The first and second dimension describe attitudes that guide the behavioral intentions of potential respondents positively (Cialdini,1984). The first dimension reflects the individual perception of surveys as a positive experience: survey enjoyment, as discussed by Cialdini (1984) and reflected in the work of Puleston (2012) on gamification to increase the enjoyment of the survey experience. The second dimension points to a positive survey climate and emphasizes the subjective importance and value of surveys, as discussed by Rogelberg, Fisher, Maynard, Hakel, and Horvath (2001). The third dimension indicates a negative survey climate: surveys are perceived by respondents as a burden, which has a negative influence on motivation and participation (Goyder, 1986; Schleifer, 1986). Survey designers and methodologist have to try and counteract this negative attitude by decreasing the perceived burden (Dillman, 1978; Puleston, 2012).
These three dimensions are fundamental building blocks in theories on survey participation and nonresponse and are seen as important indicators of a deteriorating survey climate (Barbier, Loosveldt, and Carton, 2016; Loosveldt and Joye, 2016; Singer, van Hoewyk, and Maher, 1998). For instance, both the social exchange theory (Dillman, 1978) and the leverage saliency theory (Groves, Singer, and Corning, 2000) on survey participation emphasize that people are more willing to participate in the positive aspects of the survey are maximized, and the negative aspects are minimized (Dillman, et al. 2014). These theories emphasize that for a positive decision to cooperate in a survey the perceived benefits should outweigh the perceived costs. This is achieved if a survey is seen as pleasant and fun (survey enjoyment), useful (survey value), and associated with minimal costs (survey burden).
Previous research that investigated attitudes toward surveys used one-dimensional to five-dimensional scales when measuring survey attitudes (Hox et al. 1995; Loosveldt and Storms, 2008; Rogelberg et al. 2001; Stocké and Langfeldt, 2004; Stocké, 2006, 2014). Hox et al. (1995) proposed a one-dimensional general attitude towards surveys, based on eight items. Stocké and Langfeldt (2004) and Stocké (2006) used a one-dimensional measure of general survey attitude, based on 16 items. Later, Stocké (2014) proposed a three-dimensional survey attitude measure with scales measuring survey value, survey reliability, and survey burden. Rogelberg et al. (2001) discerned two dimensions: survey enjoyment and survey value, based on 6 items. Finally, Loosveldt and Storms (2008) suggested five dimensions (survey value, survey cost, survey enjoyment, survey reliability, and survey privacy) based on a survey attitude questionnaire with nineteen items.
All studies on survey attitudes involved the positive dimension “survey value,” while the importance of “survey enjoyment” was noted by Rogelberg et al. (1997) and Loosveldt and Storms (2008). The concept “survey burden” that was mentioned by Stocké (2014) was referred to as “survey costs” in the work of Loosveldt and Storms (2008). These three common dimensions, survey enjoyment, survey value, and survey burden are also important concepts in theories on survey participation and nonresponse. Therefore, survey enjoyment, survey value, and survey burden were chosen as the three main constructs in the survey attitude scale.
For each construct in the survey attitude scale (i.e., enjoyment, value, and burden), we selected three questions that performed well in previous empirical research publications. Three questions per construct were selected as this is the minimum to identify a construct in a confirmatory factor model (Bollen, 1989, p. 244) needed to establish measurement equivalence over countries and modes. As the survey attitude scale was developed for regular use in both single-mode and mixed-mode surveys, we followed the recommendations for mixed-mode questionnaire construction (Dillman et al. 2014; Dillman and Edwards, 2016) and used a seven-point disagree/agree response scale that was endpoint labeled.
In studies on nonresponse and survey attitudes, statements referring to enjoyment, such as, “I really enjoy responding.” are frequently posed (Cialdini, Braver, and Wolf, 1991; Hox et al. 1995; Loosveldt and Storms, 2008; Rogelberg et al. 2001). As our goal was to develop a general survey attitude scale that could also be used in mixed-mode studies, we included two questions on enjoyment (one referring to mail and online questionnaires, and one referring to interviews). Besides the direct emotional enjoyment, need for cognition can act as intrinsic motivation (Stocké, 2006). Thus, we added Stocké’s question on interest in surveys to the subscale on survey enjoyment. A similar question on survey interest was used by Hox et al. (1995) and Loosveldt and Storms (2008).
Salience, relevance, and usefulness are all important for survey participation, and emphasizing these aspects plays an important role in theories of persuasion (Cialdini, 1984; Cialdini et al. 1991; Dillman, 1978; Groves, Cialdini, and Couper, 1992; Groves et al. 2000). From the literature on survey attitudes, we therefore selected a question on the importance of surveys for society that was used by multiple researchers in this field (i.e., Cialdini et al. 1991; Hox et al. 1995; Stocké, 2006) and a second question on the usefulness of the information gathered by surveys from Singer et al. (1998), which was also used by Rogelberg et al. (2001) and Loosveldt and Storms (2008). We also added a negatively formulated question on surveys as “a waste of time,” as an indicator of survey relevance. This question was based on the work of Rogelberg et al. (2001), Schleifer (1986), and Singer et al. (1998); a similar question was also used by Hox et al. (1995) and Loosveldt and Storms (2008).
According to Roper (1986) and Cialdini et al. (1991), an important aspect of the perceived survey burden is the amount of received requests to participate. Thus, we included a question on receiving too many requests in the subscale survey burden. This question was used in previous research on survey attitudes by Cialdini et al. (1991) and Hox et al. (1995). In addition, Stocké (2006) emphasized survey length as an indicator of burden and we added a question on this. Finally, Schleifer (1986) and Goyder (1996) pointed out the importance of privacy concerns, thus, we included a question on the invasion of privacy. Loosveldt and Storms (2008) used three slightly different questions to tap privacy as a sub-dimension. As our goal was to construct a brief survey attitude scale, we followed Shleifer (1986) and Goyder (1996) and only used one question on the invasion of privacy as part of the subscale survey burden.
The master questionnaire was developed in English; for the full text of the nine questions and references to source publications see Appendix 1.1. This master questionnaire was translated into Dutch and German. The translations were done by bilingual survey experts and checked with the original developer of the English master questionnaire and with senior staff of online panels in the Netherlands and Germany. For the Dutch version, see Appendix 1.2; for the German version, see Appendix 1.3.
Methods and data collection in the Netherlands and Germany
For the Netherlands, the data were collected online in the then newly established LISS panel from May to August 2008. The LISS panel is a probability-based online panel of approximately 7000 individuals and was established in autumn 2007. Individuals participate in monthly surveys with a duration of 15–30 min; for more details, see Appendix 2.1. The survey attitude scale was part of the first wave of the core questionnaire and data were collected from 6808 individuals (wave response 78.1%).
For Germany, data were collected in spring 2009 during recruitment interviews for the probability-based mixed-mode PPSM panel; for more details, see Appendix 2.2. The recruitment interviews were administered by telephone (CATI) and took on average 20 min. Both landline and cell phones were sampled, and the response to the recruitment interviews was 13.6%, a typical response rate for telephone surveys in Germany at the time. The survey attitude scale was part of this recruitment interview. In total, data were collected from 6200 individuals.
The second Germany-based data collection took place in 2014 in the GESIS panel. The GESIS panel is a mixed-mode probability-based panel of the general population in Germany. The GESIS panel was recruited in 2013. About 65% of the respondents complete the bi-monthly surveys online, while about 35% respond via mail. The questionnaires take about 20 min to complete; for more details see Appendix 2.3. The survey attitude scale was implemented in the first year of the panel’s operation (last wave of 2014). In total, 4344 respondents were invited of whom 3775 completed the survey attitude scale (wave response: 88.7%).
Results: factor structure, reliability, and predictive validity
Since there is a Dutch and a German version, it is important to investigate if there is measurement equivalence between these two versions. We used the Multigroup Confirmatory Factor Analysis (MG-CFA) to test hypotheses concerning measurement equivalence between groups. If the factor loadings are invariant across all groups, there is metric equivalence (Vanderburg and Lance, 2000). If, in addition, all intercepts are invariant, there is scalar equivalence. Although the ideal situation is achieving complete scalar measurement invariance across all groups, in practice a small amount of variation is acceptable, which leads to partial measurement invariance (Byrne, Shavelson, and Muthén, 1989; Steenkamp and Baumgartner, 1998).
As the samples in this study are large, the fit of the model was evaluated by three established fit indicators: CFI, TLI, and RMSEA. Generally recognized criteria are for CFI and TLI that a value of 0.90 indicates acceptable fit, and 0.95 and higher values indicate a good fit. For the RMSEA values below 0.08 indicate acceptable fit, and values below 0.05 indicate good fit (Kline, 2016).
It should be noted that the GESIS panel uses two modes: online and offline (paper mail). Prior to comparing the panels, a MG-CFA with two groups was used to test if there is measurement equivalence between the two modes. Specifying full scalar measurement equivalence led to an excellent model fit (χ2 (df = 58) = 169.3, CFI = 0.99, TLI = 0.98, RMSEA = 0.03). Thus, the survey mode (online vs. offline) did not affect the measurement model.
Measurement equivalence testing using MG-CFA with three groups (GESIS, LISS, and PPSM) revealed partial scalar equivalence. All loadings could be constrained equal across all three panels. There was complete scalar equivalence between the GESIS and the LISS panel, which are both self-administered. In the PPSM model, the intercepts of E1 and V3 had to be estimated separately, indicating partial scalar equivalence for the PPSM, where the data for the survey attitude scale were collected by telephone interviews. With the two modifications, the model fitted well (χ2 (df = 92) = 1590.2, CFI = 0.96, TLI = 0.95, RMSEA = 0.05).
Factor loadings survey attitude scale (unstandardized)
In sum, measurement equivalence was found cross-culturally between the Netherlands and Germany. Furthermore, for the German GESIS panel measurement equivalence was also established between the online mode and the paper mail mode.
The survey attitude scale consists of three subscales: enjoyment, value, and burden. One question in the value scale (V3, waste of time) is negatively formulated. The responses to this question were recorded, so a high score on V3 now indicates a positive attitude toward value. A high value on the final subscales enjoyment and value is an indicator of a positive survey attitude, while a high value on the subscale burden indicates a negative attitude. Also, a global attitude scale can be calculated over all nine questions. For this global attitude scale, the responses to the three burden questions were recorded, resulting in a scale where a high score indicates a generally positive attitude toward surveys.
Reliability of survey attitude (sub)scales. Coefficient omega (Alpha)
Global survey attitude
Four main conclusions can be drawn from Table 2. Firstly, the two reliability coefficients are highly similar across the three panels. Secondly, two of the three subscales had good reliability for such short scales; only the subscale “burden” had relatively low reliability. Thirdly, combining the three subscales into one global attitude scale is not worthwhile: the reliability does not increase and using the subscales as separate predictors in further analyses is more informative. Finally, the estimates for coefficient omega and alpha were very close, which implies that the assumptions underlying the use of coefficient alpha are met. This is important since this justifies using simple sum scores for the scales.
In sum, the anticipated three-factor structure fitted the data well across the three panels and the reliability of the three subscales was sufficient.
Correlations between survey attitude scales and reasons for previous survey participation questions: PPSM panel
Have something to say on the topic
Cannot say no to request
Survey is scientific
Want to help
The correlations were in the expected directions. For instance, persons who scored high on general willingness to cooperate also scored high on survey enjoyment (renjoy,willing = 0.58), relatively high, but slightly lower on survey value (rvalue,willing = 0.41), and clearly did not see surveys as a burden (rburden, willing = − 0.26). Similar patterns were seen for persons who thought the topic was interesting and had the feeling that they could say something about the topic, while persons who said that they just could not say “no” to a request scored low on survey enjoyment (renjoy, not no = − 0.19), low on survey value (rvalue, not no = − 0.15), and high on survey burden (rburden, not no = 0.15). Finally, persons who emphasized the scientific nature of the survey as a reason to cooperate or were more altruistic only scored high on survey value (rvalue, scientific = 0.17; rvalue, help = 0.16).
Correlations between survey attitude scales and survey evaluation questions for three panels: GESIS, LISS and PPSM panel
Make think GESIS
Although the absolute values of the correlations differ, all three panels showed the same pattern in the correlations matrix. The correlations between the survey attitude subscales and the evaluation of the survey are in the expected directions for all three panels. Respondents, who scored high on survey enjoyment and value and did not see surveys as a burden, rated the topic of the survey as interesting. On the other hand, respondents, who scored high on survey burden and did not value or enjoy surveys, rated the questions as difficult. Finally, respondents, who scored high on survey enjoyment and value, more often stated that the questionnaire got them thinking about things, while there was no clear relation with survey burden.
In sum, there are indications for construct validity. The survey attitude scales were related both to reasons why one had cooperated in previous research and to survey evaluation.
There are indications for the predictive validity of the survey attitude scale. A previous study involving the Dutch CenTER panel, an online panel that was established in 1991, used logistic regression to predict nonresponse from March 2007 until August 2008 (de Leeuw et al. 2010). Survey enjoyment, value, and burden all predicted panel nonresponse. The effects were small but significant and in the expected direction with survey enjoyment as the strongest predictor (BEnjoy = − .13, BValue = − .02, BBurden = .06).
During the recruitment interview for the LISS panel, one question from the survey value subscale was asked: “V1: Surveys are important for society.” At the end of the recruitment interview, respondents were asked if they were willing to become a panel member. The correlation between this question on survey value and the stated willingness to participate in the panel is 0.24. The correlation between survey value and active panel membership (defined as completing the first self-administered online panel questionnaire) was slightly lower: r = 0.18. Both correlations were significant at p < 0.01 (de Leeuw, Hox, Scherpenzeel, and Vis, 2008).
At the end of the recruitment interview for the PPSM panel, respondents were asked if they were willing to be surveyed again. The correlations between willingness and the three survey attitude subscales were all significant (p < 0.01) and in the expected direction: 0.31 between survey enjoyment and willingness to participate, 0.24 between survey value, and willingness, and - 0.20 between survey burden and willingness.
Finally, for the GESIS panel, the correlations between the survey attitude subscales and participation in the very next panel wave were low but significant and in the expected
direction: 0.04 for survey enjoyment, 0.05 for survey value, and − 0.05 for survey burden (all p < 0.01).
Summing up, the three subscales predicted stated willingness to participate and actual participation consistently, which is in line with the findings of Rogelberg (2001), who reported that indicators for survey enjoyment and survey value were both positively related to stated willingness to complete telephone, in-person, and mail surveys.
The factor structure of the survey attitude scale was established using data from three probability-based panels in two countries. In the analyses reported here, there were two cross-loadings. One enjoyment question (surveys are interesting) also had a loading on the value factor, and one value question (surveys are a waste of time) had a loading on the burden factor. These double loadings make sense: when a survey is evaluated as “interesting,” it is usually also perceived to be valuable, and when a survey is evaluated as “a waste of time,” it can be perceived as burdensome. This factor structure was replicated in all of the three panels, GESIS, LISS, and PPSM, with some alterations needed in the PPSM panel. Interestingly, in an earlier comparison of the PPSM, LISS, and two other long-standing panels (the online probability-based CentERpanel and the nonprobability online WiSo panel; de Leeuw et al. 2010), there also was complete scalar equivalence between the LISS panel, the CentERpanel and the WiSo panel, with the PPSM panel needing some alterations. The most likely reason is a mode shift: the PPSM collected the survey attitude scale data in a telephone interview, while all other panels used self-administration. Since PPSM panel membership and telephone mode are completely confounded, it is not possible to investigate this mode shift hypothesis further. However, the hypothesis of a mode shift is consistent with an experimental study by Chang and Krosnick (2010) who found mode differences regarding concurrent validity, satisficing, and social desirability between a self-administered web survey and an interviewer-administered survey conducted via intercom. Earlier studies showed that telephone surveys resulted in more noise, lower fit, and lower reliabilities than self-administered mail surveys (de Leeuw 1992, Mellenbergh, and Hox, 1995).
A second-order general factor indicated scalar equivalence. However, reliability analyses did not reveal substantially higher reliability for the nine items global scale compared to the three items subscales. Furthermore, in the validation analyses, the three subscales showed differential correlations with related variables, thus using the subscales gives more insight. Since there are two cross-loadings, and the PPSM data indicate only partial scalar equivalence, using the three factors in a latent variable model is preferable to using summated subscale scores.
Survey attitudes are expected to be related to survey responses. In all three panels, survey attitudes were related to variables that indicate actual response or willingness to respond. Some correlations are low; however, the survey attitude questions were asked at the start of the panels, and at that point in panel operation there is little nonresponse. It would be interesting to replicate our predictive analyses over a longer period of time when attrition is higher.
It should be noted that the survey attitude questions were embedded in an actual survey, which means the answers are situational (e.g., dependent on the current survey or the last completed survey). This warrants future research: ideally, an experimental study is needed that varies the content of the questionnaire in which the survey attitude scale is asked, and also varies the content of the prior questionnaire. In addition, the question of stability over time can be investigated using longitudinal data, where both the stability of the survey attitudes over time and the ability to predict wave nonresponse and dropout can be analyzed.
In times of declining response rates and decreasing trust in survey results, it is especially important to have a well-tested, documented, and validated measure of attitudes toward surveys. This instrument should be short to make it easy to implement in ongoing surveys. Using data from two countries, this article describes the development and validation of the 9-item survey attitude scale, which covers three dimensions of survey attitude: survey enjoyment (3 items), survey value (3 items), and survey burden (3 items). The survey attitude scale is a valid, reliable, and easy-to-implement tool for measuring attitudes towards surveys that can be used to investigate constructs such as survey climate, panel attrition, and survey fatigue.
The authors thank Remco Feskens for his help in developing the German version of the survey attitude scale; Simone Bartsch, Uwe Engel, Anja Göritz, and Helen Lauff for implementing the first German version; Annette Scherpenzeel for implementing the Dutch version; and Peter Lugtig and Don Dillman, the editors, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.
The first two authors developed the survey attitude scale, and conducted most of the preparation work and work on draft papers. All authors contributed evenly to all parts of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
This paper uses data from the GESIS panel (DOI: 10.4232/1.12658), the PPSM panel, and the LISS panel. The development of the GESIS panel was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research; GESIS panel is now a permanent data collection facility operated by GESIS. The PPSM panel was part of the Priority Program on Survey Methodology (PPSM) at the University of Bremen and was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) (EN 318/9-1). The LISS panel data were collected by CentERdata (Tilburg University, the Netherlands) through its MESS project funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) (grant number 176.010.2005.017).
The authors do not have competing interests.
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