By the Numbers

NV_PEOPLEIt’s all in the numbers.

Let’s say you want to conduct a national survey of American voters and you want to make sure that you’ve heard from minority groups.

National pollsters who interview voters will survey about 1200 people. That’s a fraction of registered voters—more than 206 million of us.

But pollsters don’t have the resources to interview all 206 million voters so they interview as few as possible using techniques that give them a modicum of confidence that folks interviewed reflect the views of the populace.

That means 1200 souls selected at random are supposed to represent a range of voters, including American Indians, African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, mixed-race folks, etc.

Pollsters survey voters using random methods that help boost the probability that the sample represents the population.

But here’s the question: how likely are you to find minorities in the sample of 1200 voters?

If African Americans comprise 10 percent of the population you’d expect 120 African Americans in a random sample of 1200 folks.

Indigenous Americans comprise about 2 percent of the population so a random selection would yield 24 native people.

Chances are you won’t find 24 Indigenous Americans if you reach 1200 registered voters.

But even if you did reach 24 Native Americans would they represent the views of all?

I doubt 24 members of my tribe would represent all Osages.

At last count, there were 566 federally recognized tribes, according to the US Census Bureau.

How could 24 individual possibly represent the views of such a diverse group?

Journalist and blogger Karen Lincoln Michel has been struggling with the issue of Indian representation in policy-making and poses thought-provoking questions in her blog.

Read more about this silent issue at

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About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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