"A new survey by Ipsos MORI for the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College London highlights how wrong the British public can be on the make-up of the population and the scale of key social policy issues. The top ten misperceptions are:
1. Teenage pregnancy: on average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates: we think that 15% of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, when official figures suggest it is around 0.6%[i].
2. Crime: 58% do not believe that crime is falling, when the Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that incidents of crime were 19% lower in 2012 than in 2006/07 and 53% lower than in 1995[ii]. 51% think violent crime is rising, when it has fallen from almost 2.5 million incidents in 2006/07 to under 2 million in 2012[iii].
3. Job-seekers allowance: 29% of people think we spend more on JSA than pensions, when in fact we spend 15 times more on pensions (£4.9bn vs £74.2bn)[iv].
4. Benefit fraud: people estimate that 34 times more benefit money is claimed fraudulently than official estimates: the public think that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently, compared with official estimates of £0.70 per £100[v].
5. Foreign aid: 26% of people think foreign aid is one of the top 2-3 items government spends most money on, when it actually made up 1.1% of expenditure (£7.9bn) in the 2011/12 financial year. More people select this as a top item of expenditure than pensions (which cost nearly ten times as much, £74bn) and education in the UK (£51.5bn)[vi].
6. Religion: we greatly overestimate the proportion of the population who are Muslims: on average we say 24%, compared with 5% in England and Wales. And we underestimate the proportion of Christians: we estimate 34% on average, compared with the actual proportion of 59% in England and Wales[vii].
7. Immigration and ethnicity: the public think that 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%[viii]. Even estimates that attempt to account for illegal immigration suggest a figure closer to 15%. There are similar misperceptions on ethnicity: the average estimate is that Black and Asian people make up 30% of the population, when it is actually 11% (or 14% if we include mixed and other non-white ethnic groups)[ix].
8. Age: we think the population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is that 36% of the population are 65+, when only 16% are[x].
9. Benefit bill: people are most likely to think that capping benefits at £26,000 per household will save most money from a list provided (33% pick this option), over twice the level that select raising the pension age to 66 for both men and women or stopping child benefit when someone in the household earns £50k+. In fact, capping household benefits is estimated to save £290m[xi], compared with £5bn[xii] for raising the pension age and £1.7bn[xiii] for stopping child benefit for wealthier households.
10. Voting: we underestimate the proportion of people who voted in the last general election – our average guess is 43%, when 65% of the electorate actually did (51% of the whole population)[xiv].
These misperceptions present clear issues for informed public debate and policy-making, which will be discussed at an event being run by the Royal Statistical Society, King’s College London and Ipsos MORI today, as part of the International Year of Statistics."
Any other good examples of this? I'm sure there's decades of American polling data to draw on.