Apr 122012

The European Social Survey’s Core Scientific Team (formerly known as the Central Coordination Team) has just announced in the User Bulletin (distributed via email, not yet on the website) that they will remove a cool 27 items from the core questionnaire, and three more from the supplementary questionnaire. The items in question are A3-A7, B21-B22, B32-B33, C7-C14, F6a, F34, F43-F47, F51-F52, F57-F58, F71-F73 (“referring to their round 4 question numbers”).

Now I’m sure you all know your round 4 question numbers by heart, but I don’t, so I looked them up. From round 6 on, we will miss information on use of radio, newspapers, and the internet (both global and politics specific), party membership, support for bans of extremist party, believe in scientific solutions to ecological problems,  worries about crime (six items), support for anti-terror measures, field of highest qualification, ability to borrow money from friends or family, detailed information on partner’s, mother’s and father’s work, and phone ownership/access.


Ye olden days (photo credit: Wikipedia)

From a political science vantage point, use of media and party-political questions are obviously absolutely essential, while respondents’ views on torture and terrorism are interesting at the very least. Sociologists, on the other hand, will worry about the loss of information required for Goldthorpe coding and the fact that they cannot measure fear of crime any longer. For me, the ESS is one of the most important collective resources for social research, and my instinct is to object to any cuts to the questionnaire.

On the other hand, this resource has a  price tag attached to it. Some ten years ago, it was estimated that the fieldwork in the original 16 countries would cost 4.2 million euros per round. In the meantime, both the number of countries and the fees charged by the pollsters have risen considerably. But are the savings from sacrificing these items relevant given that they make up only a fraction of the total questionnaire, that there are considerable fixed costs, and that the total costs of the ESS are still small beer compared to what Europe spends on rocket science, its subsidised industries, or agriculture?

The Core Scientific Team has promised to publish a full report on the cuts by autumn 2013. In the meantime, what are your views on the matter?