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Finding Respondents in the Forest: A Comparison of Logistic Regression and Random Forest Models for Response Propensity Weighting and Stratification

Trent D. Buskirk, Ph.D., Stanislav Kolenikov, Ph.D.


March 19, 2015
Survey response rates for modern surveys using many different modes are trending downward, leaving the potential for nonresponse biases in estimates derived from using only the respondents. The reasons for nonresponse may be complex functions of known auxiliary variables or unknown latent variables not measured by practitioners. The degree to which the propensity to respond is associated with survey outcomes casts light on the overall potential for nonresponse biases for estimates of means and totals. The most common method for nonresponse adjustments to compensate for the potential bias in estimates has been logistic and probit regression models. However, for more complex nonresponse mechanisms that may be nonlinear or involve many interaction effects, these methods may fail to converge and thus fail to generate nonresponse adjustments for the sampling weights. In this paper we compare these traditional techniques to a relatively new data mining technique- random forests – under a simple and complex nonresponse propensity population model using both direct and propensity stratification nonresponse adjustments. Random forests appear to offer marginal improvements for the complex response model over logistic regression in direct propensity adjustment, but have some surprising results for propensity stratification across both response models.