Difference between Choices
The percent difference between the choices on a survey is often the only thing people look at,with good reason. It is often the only thing that gets reported. Reputable pollsters will alwaysreport their sample size, their methods, and even their poll questions, but that doesn
t mean allthe news agencies, bloggers, and other people who cite the information will do the same. But thepercent difference between the choices means nothing without also knowing the margin-of-error.Remember this. For any poll question involving two choices, such as
,the largest margin of error will be near a 50%
50% split. Unfortunately, that
s where thedifference is most interesting, so you really need to know something about the actual margin of error.
You might have seen surveys report that the percent difference between the choices for aquestion has a margin-of-error of plus-or-minus some number. In fact, the margin-of-errordescribes a confidence interval.If survey respondents selected
60% of the time with amargin-of-error of 4%, the actual percentage in the sampled population would be 60% ± 4%,meaning between 56% and 64%, with some level of confidence, usually 95%.For a simple random sample from a surveyed population, the margin-of-error is equal to thesquare root of a Distribution Factor times a Choice Factor divided by a Sample Size Factor timesa Population Correction.
is the square of the two-sided t-value based on the number of surveyrespondents and the desired confidence level. The greater the confidence the larger the t-value and the wider the margin-of-error.
is the percentage for
times the percentage for
swhy the largest margin of error will always be near a 50%
50% split (e.g., 50% times50% will always be greater than any other percentage split, like 90% times 10%).
Sample Size Factor
is the number of people surveyed. The more people you survey, thesmaller the margin of error.
is an adjustment made to account for how much of a populationis being sampled. If you sample a large percentage of the population, the margin-of-errorwill be smaller. The population correction ranges from 1 to about 2. It is calculated by thereciprocal of one plus the quantity the number of people surveyed (n) minus one dividedby the number of people in the population (N), or in mathematical notation, 1/(1+(n-1/N)).So the entire equation for the margin-of-error is:Margin of Error in aSurveyQuestion
(Distribution Factor * ChoiceFactor) / (Sample Size Factor* Population Correction)