How a Sample of 1,000 People Represents the U.S.

How can a survey of a small group of people represent the entire population of the more than 325 million people who live in the United States? While it is not necessarily easy, research uses a process that accounts for the entire population.  This is critical to marketers – in order to uncover information from consumers, we need to ask them, but it has to be the correct group. (For example, don’t ask bald men about shampoo preferences!)

The research basically needs to start with a random sample of a group of people who represent the entire population. The group has to be the right group though, not just convenient people and random strangers to whom we give a survey.  A nationally representative survey must be one in which each person in the United States has the same chance at being selected. Once you have results, how do you know it fits the overall population?

We know the demographic composition of the U.S., thanks to the U.S. Census Bureau. Once we have the sample, the respondents’ demographics can be compared to those of the entire U.S. population. The weighting adjusts for differences – pair the respondent with demographics of the country such as age, gender, education, race, and region.

Of course, there can still be variations and outliers, but the results of the right sample are a strong indicator of the larger population.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Start by discussing the importance of research in marketing.
  2. Show the Pew video: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/12/methods-101-random-sampling/
  3. Using the class members as an example, have students determine the demographic composition of the class.
  4. How else might the class be broken into representative groups?
  5. Select a product and have student teams determine that the demographic makeup of the product’s target market.
  6. How could students find and reach a random sample of the target market?

Source: Pew Research

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