“A Social Psychologist at Heart”
“Eleanor was a major figure in the field of survey methodology, and she will be greatly missed by all who knew her,” says ISR Director David Lam. “We are fortunate that she spent the last decades of her illustrious career at ISR, where she made major contributions to research, training, and the intellectual life of the Institute.”
A self-proclaimed “social psychologist at heart,” Singer was a respected authority on American public opinion and the ethical practice of academic survey research. Her fascination with sources of error in surveys, and with human behavior in survey conditions, inspired a prolific research career beginning in 1975. Among her significant accomplishments was her decade-long editorship at Public Opinion Quarterly, a role that elevated survey methodology as an academic discipline, according to U-M political scientist Michael Traugott.
“Eleanor was editor of Public Opinion Quarterly at a time when survey research and public opinion research became established in the university setting,” says Traugott. “By her selection of content and manuscripts, she — in a very important but subtle way — promoted and encouraged the study of academic survey methods as well as the current state of knowledge that is very important to survey researchers.”
Stanley Presser wrote an In Memoriam piece for Public Opinion Quarterly, which describes Eleanor’s many contributions in more depth.
The connecting theme of her research was the validity of measurements—that is, whether issues such as privacy and confidentiality, informed consent procedures, or incentives have an effect on survey participation, bias, and the accuracy of survey response data. Her studies adapted to technological advances in survey settings over the years, and explored the implications of face-to-face, mail, phone, and online surveys. Her work continues to play an important role in the study of survey methodology.
“Some people who don’t understand survey methodology as a scientific enterprise think that in a period of declining response rates and possibility of bias in samples that the quality of public opinion is on a kind of slippery slope of decline. What they don’t understand is that it’s actually a very vibrant and dynamic field, and research like Eleanor’s is conducted continuously to improve the quality of data collected,” says Traugott.
At the Survey Research Center: Collaboration and Mentoring
In 1994, Singer was recruited as a research professor at the ISR. Bob Groves, who later became the director of the Survey Research Center (SRC), brought her to Ann Arbor to join a new survey methodology program, and knew Singer to be “central to the intellectual heart of the field.”
“Eleanor was one of those productive scientists who was also an incredible magnet for collaboration,” says Groves. “She ended up collaborating with half of the people in the building, was known as a wonderful mentor, and an exquisite writer. Whenever I would get back articles I submitted to her that she had rewritten, I realized she made my pieces better. As a collaborator you would discover that again and again.”
In 2011, Singer, along with five co-authors of the textbook Survey Methodology, donated an estimated $60,000 in royalties to benefit graduate student education and research in survey methodology at ISR. According to an ISR article, “The need for specialization in this field is critical, [the authors] say, because it generates data that ultimately touches all aspects of life: personal, social, and political. And institutions — whether governmental, corporate, or academic — rely on that data.”
The Eleanor Singer Survey Research Center Junior Faculty Support Fund
Inspired by her career and her mentorship of junior faculty, SRC has decided to create the Eleanor Singer SRC Junior Faculty endowed fund in her honor. The Singer Fund will support and recognize junior faculty in the Survey Research Center with small grants for their development. Because the faculty of the Center stands on the shoulders of giants, we know it is important to provide support to the Next Generation of social science researchers to continue the legacy of so many, including Eleanor.
How you can contribute
Make a gift online. University of Michigan employees can also make payroll deduction gifts using the online system. Donations are also accepted by the Office of Development, Institute for Social Research, 426 Thompson Street, Rm. 6065, Ann Arbor, MI 48104, in person or by mail. Please make checks out to the University of Michigan and write Singer Fund on the memo line.