Purpose and Methodology of the
Houston Area Survey
For the past 24 years, these countywide, random-digit-dialed,
computer-assisted telephone surveys have monitored
systematically the continuities and changes in demographic
patterns, life experiences, attitudes, and beliefs among
successive representative samples of Harris County residents.
Using identical items across the years, with new questions added
periodically, the annual Houston Area Survey has tracked America’s
fourth largest city in the midst of fundamental transformation.
No other metropolitan area in America has
been the focus of a long-term study of this sort, and none more
clearly exemplifies the nation's ongoing economic and
demographic transformations. During most of the twentieth
century, Houston was
essentially an Anglo-dominated, biracial Southern city,
riding its location near the East Texas oil fields to continual
prosperity. In May 1982, two months after the first survey in
this series was conducted, the oil boom collapsed.
from deep recession in the mid 1980s to find itself in the midst
of a fully restructured economy and an accelerating demographic
revolution. New economic, educational, and environmental
challenges have redefined the “pro-growth” strategies that will
be required for urban prosperity in the twenty-first century. At
the same time, major immigration flows have transformed this
city into one of the nation’s most culturally diverse
metropolitan areas, at the forefront of the new ethnic diversity
that is refashioning the social and political landscape of urban America.
The overall purpose of this continuing project is to measure
systematically the way area residents are responding to these
ongoing transformations, and to make the findings of this
research widely available to the general public and to research
In order to ensure that every Harris County adult
living in a household with a telephone will have an equal
probability of being interviewed, survey respondents are
selected through a two-stage random-digit-dialing procedure. In
each household reached by randomly generated telephone numbers,
the designated respondent is selected randomly from all
household members aged 18 or older. Using “back translation” and
the reconciliation of discrepancies, each year’s questionnaire
is translated into Spanish, and bilingual interviewers are
assigned to the project at all times.
Conducted annually during February and March, the interviews
assess a rich array of attitudes and beliefs, of life
circumstances and demographic characteristics, among successive
representative samples of Harris Countyresidents.
In the early years, the sample size ranged from 412 to 679;
since 1992, it has been set at 650. Response rates -- the ratio
of completed interviews to all eligible phone numbers --
averaged 70 percent in the 1980s and around 45 percent more
recently. These are high figures for survey research, justifying
continued confidence in the reliability of the data.
In 13 of the past 15 years (the exceptions
were 1992 and 1996), the basic random samples
have been expanded with "oversample surveys."
Using identical random selection procedures,
additional interviews are conducted each year to
enlarge and equalize the annual representation
of Anglo, African-American, and Hispanic
respondents at 450 to 500 each. In 1995 and
2002, the research included multi-lingual
interviews with large representative samples
from Houston's Asian communities, the only such
surveys in the country.
As indicated on this site (All
Survey Questions), the
annual surveys have measured over the years the respondents’
outlooks on the local and national economy, poverty programs,
and interethnic relationships; their beliefs about
discrimination and affirmative action; their perspectives on
immigration, education, crime, healthcare, taxation, and
community service; their assessments of downtown development,
mobility and transit, land-use controls, and environmental
concerns; their attitudes toward abortion rights, homosexuality,
and other aspects of the “social agenda”; their religious and
political orientations, their socioeconomic and other life
circumstances, their residence patterns and family structures.