Along with media coverage of political races, many social and economic indicators are based on survey research: polls. (The Cascadia Scorecard currently employs no original polls, but our economy indicator is derived from government survey research on unemployment, poverty, and household income.)

But the reliability of survey research may be in peril, because ever fewer people are willing to participate, as the Washington Postreports:

In the 1960s, it was common for two-thirds of those contacted to complete a telephone survey. But participation dropped steeply through the 1980s and early 1990s, when it appears to have leveled off. . . . Currently cooperation rates hover at about 38 percent for the big national media surveys conducted over several days, but can dip down into the teens for surveys completed in a single night, says Jon Krosnick, a psychologist at Stanford University who has completed a groundbreaking study of response rates.

Partly, declining participation in surveys is a natural defense mechanism against their proliferation (and their evil twin, telemarketing). But interestingly, it’s also a symptom of declining civic engagement or “social capital,” according to political scientist Robert Putnam, author of the ground-breaking book Bowling Alone. People who are decreasingly connected to each other through involvement in a variety of local organizations tend to trust strangers (including telephone pollsters) less. They also tend to be less generous with their time.