measures. We conclude in Section 3–G, considering both the historical goals of the NCVS (Chapter 2) and the challenges described in this chapter to assess the basic utility of the NCVS.

3–A
CHALLENGES TO SURVEYS OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC

3–A.1
The Decline in Response Rates

With a response rate of 91 percent among eligible households (84 percent of eligible persons) as of 2005, the NCVS enjoys response and participation rates that are highly desirable relative to other victimization and social surveys. However, the NCVS response rates have declined over the past decade; in 1996, the NCVS household- and person-level response rates were 93 and 91 percent, respectively (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2006a). Figure 3-1 illustrates the recent growth in the noninterview rate in the NCVS and one component of that rate in particular: refusals by anyone in the contacted household to participate in the survey. The figure presents these noninterview and refusal rates for both initial contacts (interview 1, conducted by personal visit) and for all data collection in the year (including telephone and personal interviews for contacts 2–7 with sample addresses); the initial and aggregate rates generally track each other closely.

The decline in response rates is a situation faced by almost all household surveys in the United States (Groves et al., 2002). For instance, the General Social Survey, a cross-sectional household survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, has experienced a declining response rate in recent years, from response rates in the high 70s (percentages) and a peak of 82 percent in 1993 to 70–71 percent in 2000–2006.1 Remedies to address declines in response rate continue to be developed. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, contracting with the Research Triangle Institute, implemented a $30 incentive in 2002 in order to induce respondents to return questionnaires for the National Survey of Drug Use and Health due to declining response rates. The highly detailed National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by Westat, has experienced a similar reduction in response.

There is little evidence that the loss of response rate over time is primarily a function of what organization conducts the survey: many of the federal surveys collected by the U.S. Census Bureau (including the NCVS) for various sponsors have shown declines as well. Atrostic et al. (2001) describe measures of nonresponse for six federal surveys (including the NCVS) between 1990 and 1999, documenting consistent declines in response; Bates (2006) updates the series through 2005. An example cited in those works



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