Convenience Samples


Winter 2023

Course so far

  • Representative surveys as the gold standard

  • Other research design help us learn more but tend to use convenience samples

  • Today: Talk more about convenience samples

We are seeing less of this

And more of this

And more of this

And more of this

Do we want surveys to be representative?

  • Pros?

  • Cons?

  • We always want them!

  • But when do we need them?

  • Rather, when can we get away with not having them?

Internal an external validity

  • Validity: Approximate truth or usefulness of an inference

  • Inference: How we interpret the results of a study

  • Internal validity: Whether inferences from a single study cannot be explained by other factors

  • External validity: Whether inferences from a single study apply to a broader population or other target populations

  • Convenience samples make it easier to achieve internal validity at the expense of external validity

Types of internal validity

  1. X-validity (endogenous variables)

  2. T-validity (treatments, conditions)

  3. Y-validity (outcome variables)

  4. C-validity (context)


  • Is the sample comparable to the target population?

  • If not, can we claim that the differences can be ignored?

  • To do that, we have to convince ourselves that:

  1. Effects are the same across units


  1. We observe all the variables that may explain discrepancies in effects


  • Do treatments (conditions) reflect what participants would encounter in the real world?

  • Example: Is thinking about hypothetical countries a good reflection to how people would think about real countries?

  • Can we claim that there are no different versions of the same treatment?

  • To do that, we need to convince ourselves that everyone would interpret vignettes in the same way

  • Either because it is realistic enough or abstract yet believable


  • Do the outcomes we measure in surveys reflect the outcomes we want to learn about in the real world?

  • Example: Are self-reported vote intentions a good replacement for actual voting behavior?

  • Can we claim that there are no different versions of the same outcome?

  • Need to convince ourselves that measured outcomes are sufficiently valid and reliable


  • Do results generalize from other contexts?

  • Example: If it worked with students in Sweden, will it work with students in Canada?

  • Can we claim that the same units would react in the same way if the study was conducted elsewhere?

  • Need to convince ourselves that context is irrelevant for similar people in different places


Munger et al (2021): Accessibility and generalizability

  • Replicate 3 convenience sample survey experiments with representative sample
  1. Social commentary and news source credibility

  2. Facebook shares and news consumption

  3. Issue framing and support for gun control

  • Argument: Effects vary considerably by age and digital literacy


  • Replication 1: Participants low on digital literacy did not respond differently to vignettes

  • Replication 2: Older people clicked on whatever headline came first

  • Replication 3: No differences because issue had nothing to do with digital literacy

  • What kind of validity is this about?

Coppock et al (2018): Generalizability of heterogeneous treatment effect estimates across samples

  • Replicate 27 studies from nationally-representative samples with convenience samples

  • Compare how effects vary across 16 demographic characteristics


  • Different samples yield similar results when:
  1. Treatment effects are mostly homogeneous

  2. Effect heterogeneity is orthogonal to sample selection

  • What type of validity is this about?

After Recess

Evidence-Informed Policy

Focus on: New topic!

Break time!