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Survey research expert Seymour Sudman dies

Mark Reutter, Business Editor
(217) 333-0568;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Seymour Sudman, a dynamic teacher of University of Illinois undergraduates and a world-renown expert in the field of survey research, died Tuesday (May 2) in Chicago from complications following a stroke he suffered last month in Washington, D.C. He was 71.

A professor of marketing, sociology and survey research, Sudman had postponed his retirement from the UI until this summer so that he could continue teaching his undergraduate course in marketing research.

"He loved teaching, that's why he didn't retire," said Diane O'Rourke, assistant director for survey operations at the university's Survey Research Laboratory. "He liked to be around students and he particularly liked the class projects where the students did market research. He had a knack for persuading alumni at many companies, both large and small, to underwrite the student projects."

In 1987, Sudman won the highest honor given by the American Association for Public Opinion Research. He also was a fellow of the American Statistical Association.

A pioneer in survey sampling and the design of survey questionnaires, he was the author or a co-author of such classics in the field as "Applied Sampling" (1976), "Asking Questions" (1982) and "Polls and Surveys" (1988).

More recently, combining the work of survey researchers and cognitive psychologists, he studied why people answer survey questions the way they do. This resulted in "Thinking About Answers: Application of Cognitive Processes to Survey Methodology" written with Norman Bradburn and Norbert Schwarz.

Sudman was born in Chicago in 1928 and received his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Roosevelt University in 1949. After working as a statistician and analyst at several institutions, including the Army Ordnance Ammunition Command, he received his doctorate in business from the University of Chicago.

From 1962 to 1968, he was the director of sampling and senior study director at the National Opinion Research Center. He came to the UI in 1968 as a professor of business administration and sociology and as a research professor at the Survey Research Laboratory.

In 1985, he was named the Walter H. Stellner Distinguished Professor of Marketing. Sudman was fascinated by how questionnaire results were influenced by how the questions were worded.

Media polls, especially those done early in political campaigns, "are more a reflection of name recognition than of voting behavior," he said.

The emergence of the World Wide Web created new pitfalls for survey researchers.

"Currently, the only successful use of the Web for survey work is with middle-class populations that have full access to the Web, and this use still requires initial contact with the respondents by mail, telephone or other old-fashioned means of communication to persuade them to cooperate," he wrote.

He served as a consultant for the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Physician's Payment Review Commission, Centers for Disease Control, Social Science Research Council, Urban Institute, and the U.S. Department of Education.

He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Blanche Berland Sudman; a son, Harold, of Chicago; daughters Emily Hindin of Columbus, Ohio, and Carol Sudman of Springfield, Ill.; a sister, Annette Baich of Edwardsville, Ill., and two grandchildren.