What is Incidence Rate (IR) in Market Research?

Intellicast S5E28 – IMD Preview Part 2 – Sequoyah Glenn and Miles Rote
September 26, 2022
Let’s Talk about Marijuana: Legalization, Uses, and More
September 29, 2022
Intellicast S5E28 – IMD Preview Part 2 – Sequoyah Glenn and Miles Rote
September 26, 2022
Let’s Talk about Marijuana: Legalization, Uses, and More
September 29, 2022
Show all

What is Incidence Rate (IR) in Market Research?

Dear Market Research Professionals, The ESOMAR glossary defines Incidence Rate (IR) as “The proportion of respondents contacted in a survey who qualify for the survey”.   Incidence is one of those things that can be polarizing. 
  • When a client is unsure of incidence panels are asked to bid at several levels: 10%, 20% , 30%, 40% , 50%, etc
  • Some clients define it as “well, you know your panel”.
  • Others define it as “depends on what you can target”
  • And others still  define it as  “100% if you can target that exactly”
In a perfect world we could target on every possible profile point in which researchers are interested.  The good news is that to date panel companies have only been able to profile on a few thousand data points. At EMI we pride ourselves in delivering the correct sample for each project, and often times that means knowing which panel has the most direct targeting in order to increase the incidence and therefore lower the CPI. We understand that, more often than not, the incidence rate is unknown. That is often a big reason the research is even being conducted in the first place! In those situations we are happy to provide several options for feasibility and pricing based on varied incidence rates. Unfortunately not all projects have the luxury of being budgeted based on a wide cost range. In order to more accurately bid on projects EMI is able run incidence checks on behalf of our clients:
  • Quick – get hundreds of responses in a day or two
  • Free – yes, they cost zero dollars
  • Global – available in most countries worldwide
  • Valuable – be confident in your budget and feasibility
To have a little fun with this service we decided to run a few different checks this week and the results are below: What is your favorite holiday from the list below? (choose one)
  • Thanksgiving – 52%
  • Valentine’s Day – 4%
  • Independence Day (4th of July) – 15%
  • New Year’s Eve – 12%
  • St. Patrick’s Day – 2%
  • Halloween – 15%
What is your favorite state to travel to on vacation?
  • California – 17%
  • Texas – 4%
  • Florida – 25%
  • New York – 10%
  • Michigan – 3%
  • Colorado – 5%
  • Arizona – 4%
  • South Carolina – 5%
  • Other – 27%
If you HAD to give up one of your senses, which would it be?
  • Hearing – 9%
  • Seeing – 3%
  • Feeling / Touch – 13%
  • Smelling – 55%
  • Tasting – 20%
So the next time you are in the dark about the incidence on a study you are bidding, let EMI help shed some light!   Sincerely, The EMI Team

In the world of online quantitative market research, you cannot talk about surveys and online sample without discussing survey specifications like sample size, length of interview, and incidence rate (IR). All of these specifications impact sample cost in their own way, but incidence rate is the one that can cause the widest fluctuations and is the hardest to control.

What Is Incidence Rate (IR)?

The incidence rate is defined as the number of people who meet your specific criteria and would be eligible for your survey. Another way to think about it is that the incidence rate is the rate at which a specific characteristic, action, or behavior occurs in a population.

In the online sample world, the incidence rate is the percentage of respondents that meet the studies’ criteria and would be eligible to take the survey.

An example of this would be if you have 100 people, and you are looking for dog owners. In your pool (or sample) of 100 people, if 8 have dogs, then your incidence rate would be 8%. There are actually two different incidence rates in market research.

Predicted Incidence Rate

Predicted incidence rate is the anticipated percentage of people that are likely to qualify for your study based on its specifications and criteria. This rate often fluctuates while fielding since it is an educated guess based on statistics, panel data, etc.

Actual Incidence Rate

The actual incidence rate is the actual number of respondents that qualified for your survey out of the population the study was sent to. Unlike the predicted incidence rate, you can only calculate the actual incidence rate at the end of the study since it is based on your final data.

How to Calculate Incidence Rate in Market Research

Calculating the incidence rate follows the same formula, whether you are calculating predicted or actual incidence rate. Here is the formula to use:

Number of people who meet specific criteria / Target Population

Here is an example of calculating the incidence rate for Ford employees in the overall auto industry:

Number of EV owners / Car Owners = EV Incidence Rate

186,000 / 2,000,000 = 9.3%

How Incidence Rates Are Used in Market Research

Online sample providers use incidence rate as a key determining factor in how easy, or difficult an audience will be to survey, and the number of respondents they can expect to qualify for a study based on the targeted population.

The Impact of Incidence Rate

In a perfect world, we would have 100% incidence rate for every target audience market researchers are looking to gather insights from. But that is not the case. Incidence rates vary greatly depending on the targeting criteria and target audience you are trying to reach.

There are 2 critical factors that incidence rate directly impacts.


Incidence rate is a key driver of audience feasibility. Incidence rate allows panel providers to provide estimates on the number of respondents in their panel that would qualify for a particular study. The lower the incidence, the lower the feasibility, and the inverse applies as well.


Incidence is probably the most critical factor in sample pricing. The incidence rate drives the feasibility panel providers have for your target audience. The lower the incidence rate, the higher the cost of the sample since the respondents who match your criteria are much rarer than studies who are looking for a target audience with a higher incidence rate.

What Is Incidence Rate (IR)?

There are several ways that you can increase the incidence rate of your target audience when conducting an online survey:

Focus Your Targeting Criteria

If you are trying to survey people who only live in Ohio, have your panel partner only send to respondents in their panel that have been profiled living in Ohio. This removes the need to send survey invites to a bunch of people you know will not qualify; it will increase the respondent experience of those who do qualify and increases the overall IR of your study.

Flexibility with Your Quotas

If you are trying to ensure representation in your study by included quotas, try to have flexibility around what those quotas are. Some quota groups can have lower incidence rates than others and could potentially cause the overall IR to decrease.

Relax Your Screening Criteria

There are times you may want to relax your audience screening criteria, especially if you know your ideal target audience is a difficult one to reach. This could include increasing the length of time you are looking at for a particular purchase, increasing a geographic scope, or much more.