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Houston Area Survey

Kinder Houston Area Survey

Purpose and Methodology of the Kinder Institute Houston Area Survey

For the past three decades, these countywide, random-digit-dialed, computer-assisted telephone surveys, conducted annually during February and March, have measured 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 Kinder Institute Houston Area Survey has tracked America’s fourth largest city in the process of fundamental transformation. 

Historical overview.

No other metropolitan area in America has been the focus of a long-term study of this sort. 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 Houston Area Survey was completed, the oil boom collapsed.

Houston recovered from deep recession in the 1980s to find itself squarely in the midst of a restructured economy and a demographic revolution. New economic, educational, and environmental challenges have redefined the "pro-growth" strategies 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 center of the transformations that are 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 remarkable changes, and to make the findings of this research widely available to the general public and to research scholars everywhere. 

As indicated on this site (under Survey Topics), the interviews record a rich array of socioeconomic and demographic characteristics. They measure respondents’ perspectives on the local and national economy, on poverty programs and interethnic relationships; their beliefs about discrimination and affirmative action; their attitudes toward immigration, education, crime, health care, taxation, and community service; their assessments of downtown development, mobility and transit, land-use controls, and environmental concerns; their views on abortion rights, homosexuality, and other aspects of the "social agenda"; their religious and political orientations, and their family structures.


In order to ensure that every Harris County adult living in a household with a telephone (either land line or cell phone) will have an equal probability of being interviewed, survey respondents are selected annually through a two-stage random-digit-dialing procedure. In each household reached by randomly generated telephone numbers, the eligible respondent is selected randomly from all household members aged 18 or older, with initial preference given to an adult male. 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.

In the early years, the sample sizes ranged from 412 to 550; since 1990, they have been set at around 650, and more recently at 750. Response rates -- the number of completed interviews in relation to all potentially eligible phone numbers -- averaged nearly 75 percent in the 1980s and have fallen to around 25 percent recently. Cooperation rates -- the ratio of completions to interviews plus refusals -- remained for many years at approximately 80 percent, and have declined to about 45 percent more recently. These are disconcerting trends, but relatively high figures for survey research today, and the sample distributions justify continued confidence in the reliability of the data. 

Beginning with the 2012 survey, the samples have been expanded to include 1,300 respondents from all ten of the counties that define the greater Houston metropolitan region (namely: Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery, Galveston, Brazoria, Liberty, Waller, Chambers, Austin and San Jacinto counties). The distributions of the responses from the Harris County respondents in the 31 successive surveys on all of the items are available under Survey Topics.


In 18 of the past 19 years (from 1994 through 2012; the one exception was 1996), the surveys have been expanded with "oversample" interviews in Houston's ethnic communities. Using identical random-selection procedures, and terminating after the first few questions if the respondent is not of the ethnic background required, additional interviews have been conducted in each of these years to enlarge and equalize the samples of Anglo, African-American and Hispanic respondents at about 500 each. In 1995, 2002 and 2011, the research included large representative samples (N=500) from Houston's Asian communities as well, with one-fourth of the interviews being conducted in Vietnamese, Cantonese, Mandarin, or Korean.