Variability in the population

The first factor affecting the size of the sample is the proportionate distribution of the characteristics of interest, for example, the proportion of people who are boat owners or holiday takers. When the proportion is either small, as in the first instance, or very large, as in the second instance, the size of sample required to measure this accurately is smaller than when the population is more or less equally split between having and not having the attributes under consideration. Thus, predicting the outcome of a general election accurately, with support for the two major parties more or less equally split, requires a larger sample than when support is heavily in favour of one party rather than the other.

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