Recently a co-worker popped his head in my office and asked, "Do you believe polls?" Now that might be an off-the-wall question for anyone, though I was really taken aback by it because I'm the head of polling for Fox News.
So I would hope it goes without saying that yes, I believe polls. Well, that isn't quite right. I believe some polls -- the ones that are done with care and use good methods. Such polls can be incredibly accurate and valuable.
A properly conducted poll provides insights into the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the group of people being surveyed. The topics are infinite. It could be politics: How well do they think the president is doing his job? It could be religion: Do they believe in God? Or even shopping: What's their favorite department store? You can perform polls that measure the views of a worldwide population, or the employees of a single company.
Here at Fox News, we do lots of national polls on all sorts of current events. And the poll results generate a significant amount of original news content for the channel's television programming, web site, affiliate stations and radio newscasts.
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.
Still, many people seem to have a love-hate relationship with polls. Even if they enjoy reading the polls, some people can turn into skeptics if they personally don't feel the same as the majority. Maybe they don't even know anyone who feels the same as the majority. Yet assuming everyone shares your views and those of your friends and neighbors would be like the cook skimming a taste from just the top of the pot without stirring the soup first.
Polling is a powerful tool. It's a process that not only gives us an accurate read on what people are thinking, but it also gives people the chance tell us what they're thinking. And when a poll makes me say "Wow -- that's interesting," it is a lot of fun to share the results with the Fox News audience and maybe tell them something that they didn't realize either.