Applications of Surveys
Common Core: S.IC.3

Applications of Surveys

Author: Jonathan Osters

This lesson will explain common applications of surveys.

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Video Transcription

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In this tutorial, you're going to learn about survey applications. And we're going to use two companies that use surveys very often in order to obtain useful results. The Gallup organization and the Nielsen company.

So let's give a little bit of background into the Gallup organization. The Gallup organization began in 1936 to try and predict the outcome of the 1936 presidential election. It was Franklin Roosevelt, who was the incumbent, against Alf Landon, the Republican from Kansas. Now, there was a magazine out at the time called the Literary Digest.

And Literary Digest had a very good reputation, very reliable reputation, for picking the winner of such contests. In 1936, they took on their most ambitious poll yet. They predicted that Landon would win in a pretty big landslide of 57% to Roosevelt's 43%. They did this by having 2.4 million of their subscribers return a questionnaire about who they intended to vote for. This is one of the largest samples and opinion polls that has ever been taken in the country.

Contrast that with what Gallup decided to do. This is George Gallup. He took some of the Literary Digest results, only 50,000 people. But he carefully selected those people from among the 2.4 million respondents to make sure that they were representative of the country as a whole, as opposed to just counting everyone who chose to send their ballot back. His prediction was that Roosevelt would win 57% to 43% over Landon, essentially a reversal of Literary Digests numbers.

So who was going to be vindicated? Well, it ended up being one of the most lopsided victories in American history. The blue counties here are counties that voted for Roosevelt. And the red counties voted for Landon.

You can see that almost a large majority of the counties voted for the Democrat, and Gallup was vindicated. And his process of selecting a representative sample as opposed to those who volunteered to return their ballots, ended up being the gold standard for sampling. And Gallup's organization is still well perspective.

This is a clip from their website. And they do polls for all sorts of things. Whether or not people are thriving, struggling, or suffering, this is a poll that they did. Opinions on presidential approval ratings. Who will win in an upcoming presidential election. All sorts of things are what Gallup does now. And they use a sampling technique and surveys to try to obtain representative samples for the entire country.

The Nielsen company deals with entertainment trends in America. They take a small sample, and small meaning several hundred or a few thousand households in the US. But by taking a representative sample, they can determine the television viewing and radio listening habits of Americans with a good degree of certainty.

Now, they do this two ways. Sometimes they have people record what they watch and when they watched it, and record it in diaries and then mail them back. Some houses have Nielsen set meters. And set meters are essentially in their cable boxes and they keep track of the viewing habits of those individuals and relay that information back to Nielsen. So the viewers don't actually have to do anything.

And using these two methods, they can pretty accurately determine who is watching what, or who watched what in any given time frame. They can also do this with radio. And the way that they do this with radio is very similar.

And so to recap, surveying is done very extensively. And the most prominent examples of surveys and large scale sampling are done by the Gallup polling organization and the Nielsen market research company. Gallup deals with politics and social trends. Nielsen deals mainly with entertainment.

And so we talked about the Gallup poll. We talked about the Nielsen television ratings and how those were calculated. And the Nielsen radio index is essentially the same thing, but for radio.

Good luck. And we'll see you next time.

Notes on "Applications of Surveys"


(0:00-0:15) Introduce Applications of Surveys

(0:16-3:39) Gallup and the Election of 1936

(3:40-5:07) How Nielsen uses surveys

(5:08-5:49) Recap


Terms to Know

Gallup Poll

Polling method developed by George Gallup whereby a very representative sample can be taken with a fairly small sample size.


Nielsen Ratings

A public interest study that measures mainly retail and media consumption.


Nielsen Radio Index

A method for measuring radio listenership that was first used in 1942.