When I tell people what I do for a living, the question that comes up most often is, “How can a survey of a relatively small number of people represent the views of the whole country?” That’s a fair question.
There are a couple of analogies that pollsters like to use to explain this that don’t get into complicated statistics. Being a bit of a foodie, my favorite one involves soup: Cooks don’t eat the whole pot to find out how the soup tastes. To get a good read of the flavor, they stir the soup and then dip a spoon in for a sip.
Likewise, we don’t need to contact every American — more than 230 million adults — to find out what the public is thinking. Suffice it to say that with proper sampling and random selection of respondents so that every person has an equal chance of being contacted, a poll of 800-1,000 people provides an incredibly accurate representation of the country as a whole. It’s a pretty amazing process if you think about it.