Why Don’t Research Access Panels Match Census Demographics?


When you need to gather opinions from hundreds or thousands of people from across the country, research access panels are a great option. People have already consented to be contacted and share their opinions about a variety of topics, and they feel comfortable sharing their most personal experiences because they know and trust the company they’re helping.

But one of the most common questions asked about panels is why their demographic makeup doesn’t match the census. If the census says a country is 51% female and 49% male, there must be a problem with recruitment if a panel doesn’t also look like that. In fact, those with panel experience might suggest just the opposite – panels that DO look like census are a curiosity.


Access panels serve the needs of many different clients. One of the purposes that has gained massive attention over the last few years has been political polling. Researchers regularly monitor election trends in terms of voting intention. This type of research requires a very specific sample of people – a census representative group of men and women who are old enough to vote. In such cases, it would make sense that a panel is comprised of 51% women and 49% men.

Omnibus research studies are another scenario where researchers often use a census representative sample. (Although CVI’s OmniUber allows clients to customize the sample targets of their own omnibus.)

But not all research aims to understand census representative groups of people. Social researchers might wish to understand women’s perceptions and experiences about accessing pregnancy care, support for sexual assault, or eating disorders. Other social researchers might wish to understand men’s perceptions and experiences about heart disease, prostate cancer, or hair loss. There are many cases where it would make sense for a researcher to want to hear from only men, only women, only elderly people, only Black people, only Christian people, or some other highly targeted, non-census group of people.

And of course, there are many types of market research that necessitate speaking with a very targeted group of people. For instance, for most products and services related to children, researchers continue to include a greater percentage of women in the research because women continue to provide the majority of childcare. Thus, research about children’s food, clothing, facial care, personal care, and entertainment will generally include more women than men.

On top of that, panels must account for a wide range of research completion rates from each group of people – young men need to be over-recruited to account for their lower response rates and older women need to be under-recruited to account for their higher response rates.


Taking all of these criteria into consideration, it generally doesn’t make sense for an access panel to recruit a census representative group of people. Panels must recruit a set of people who together will meet the research needs of the clients they’re working with and at the same time not overburden one specific demographic group nor ignore another group.

No matter what an access panel looks like demographically, sample providers will still use a complex algorithm to select a group of people who will generate a final sample that meets your specific needs. Whether you need a Census Representative sample, a Primary Grocery Shopper sample, or a Moms With Toddlers sample, the best panel is the one that gives you the end result you need.

We’d love to help you with your access panel needs. Please get in touch with us!

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With nearly 40 years of experience, Canadian Viewpoint is a field and data collection company that specializes in English and French offline and online services. We offer
consumer and medical sample,
programming and hosting,
custom omnibus, mall intercepts, pre-recruits to central location, mystery shopping, site interviews, IHUTs, sensory, product, and package tests, discussion boards, CATI, facial coding, and other innovative technologies. Learn more about our services on our website. Canadian Viewpoint is a founding board member of CRIC (Canadian Research Insights Council) and named on both the 2019 GRIT Top 50 list of Emerging Players and the Women in Research shortlist for Best Places to Work.

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