Based on recent poll results, CNN declared the Presidential race between McCain and Obama a “statistical tie.” How can that be, when the numbers show Obama polling 47% and McCain 43%?
To understand it you have to consider the “margin of error” of the poll. Polls such as this one use samples to estimate public opinion and, statistically, they place the estimate within a designated range. In this case, the margin of error was + or – 3%. That means the actual number of Obama supporters could be as high as 50% or as low as 44%, when we add and subtract the margin of error from the estimate; that clearly overlaps with the range for McCain, which could be as low as 40% or as high as 46%. Thus, the race is currently a “statistical dead heat.”
What does this mean for you? It means when you conduct surveys in your business, you need to be very careful not to attach too much meaning to small differences in percentages, particularly if they come from very small samples. If you find that 44% of your customers either agree or agree strongly that a product is good, but 40% either disagree or disagree strongly that it’s good, the 2 camps are basically equal. And you may need to look carefully at the reasons that such a large proportion of customers is expressing dissatisfaction.
This recent poll, then, provides a wonderful reminder of why we need to be careful when we interpret our survey data, so we ensure that we’re coming away with the information we need to make good business decisions.
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