05/16/2011 05:18 pm ET Updated Jul 16, 2011

AAPOR Award Praises Pentagon DADT Survey

PHOENIX -- When the Department of Defense released its Don't Ask Don't Tell survey of service members and their spouses in December of last year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sharply questioned the study's response rate and methodology. But this weekend, the American Association for Public Opinion Research honored the DADT survey with its annual Policy Impact Award.

The study was part of the Defense Department's review of its controversial policy on gays in the military. The survey involved a lengthy but confidential questionnaire sent to 400,00 active duty and reserve troops and nearly 150,000 military spouses. The researchers designed the study to both aid members of Congress in deciding whether to repeal the policy and guide the Pentagon on how to best implement the change if approved.

McCain and other opponents of overturning the de facto ban on gays in the military attacked the methodology of the study, but its 28 percent response rate was in line with previous military surveys and far better than those obtained by most news media polls.

In presenting the award at the organization's annual conference in Phoenix Saturday night, former AAPOR President Peter Miller congratulated the researchers on their "great work" and "service to the country and to our survey profession."

Accepting on behalf of the Pentagon's Comprehensive Review Working Group, Gerald F. "Jay" Goodwin of the U.S. Army Research Institute praised the more than 250 people who worked on the study.

"It's always good when the science and policy get together," he said.

Two research companies hired by the Pentagon to carry out the study were also honored. Bernard D. Rostker and Sandra H. Berry of the Rand Corporation and Shelley Perry of Westat were on hand to accept the prize.

As Westat's Perry points out via email, the AAPOR award helps underscore that the DADT survey results "are based on a solid scientific approach and the study was carried out with the highest technical quality." She notes that the researchers worked as a team and that "methodological rigor" was "as important to the general officers directing the study as it was to the military researchers and the social scientists. The study directors sometimes had to enforce the right methodological choices over political choices and they did."

The results from both the structured survey and from qualitative focus groups are also being used by the Pentagon's Education and Training team to help roll the new policy out to the troops and develop teaching materials, according to Perry. She hopes the survey's focus on "the values underlying different attitudes about the policy change are helpful in the training and in addressing the concerns of military members and family members."

Disclosure: Mark Blumenthal is an active AAPOR member.