Market research firm, Ipsos MORI’s new global survey reveals how wrong the public across 14 countries are about the basic make-up of their populations and the scale of some key social issues.

For this study, approximately 1,000 people were surveyed in Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Great Britain and the US. At least 500 people were surveyed in the other countries. Participants were aged from 18-64 in the US and Canada, and 16-64 in the rest of the world.

Individuals were asked questions on a range of topics from immigration and unemployment to teen pregnancies and religion to see how close to reality the public perception in each country is. It’s not actually that close.

Everything we think we know is wrong

  • Canadians surveyed think that 35% of the population of this country are immigrants. It’s actually only 21%.
  • We believe that 49% of the population self-identify as being Christians. In reality many more people – 69% actually do.
  • Conversely we think that 20% of the people here are Muslim, but they really make up just 2% of the Canadian population.
  • We also think that there are a lot more teen pregnancies than actually occur. Survey respondents said that 15% of girls aged 15-19 years old give birth each year. Only 1% actually do.
  • We think that the population is much older than it actually is as well. Canadians guessed that 39% of the population was over 65 years old. In reality it’s just 14%.
  • We also think fewer Canadians vote in national elections than actually do. Respondents said that 51% of the eligible population voted in the last federal election. It was 61%.
  • Participants said that 23% of the population is unemployed and looking for work. It’s actually just under 7%.


How does Canada compare internationally?

Well, we ain’t the dumbest. In the Ipsos survey, Canada fell in about the middle of the countries assessed – seventh out of fourteen. Italy was named as the “most ignorant” country, and the United States came in second. Sweden ranked the “least ignorant.”

The “Index of Ignorance”

    1. Italy
    2. US
    3. South Korea
    4. Poland
    5. Hungary
    6. France
    7. Canada
    8. Belgium
    9. Australia
    10. Great Britain
    11. Spain
    12. Japan
    13. Germany
    14. Sweden


Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, said: “These misperceptions present clear issues for informed public debate and policy-making. For example, public priorities may well be different if we had a clearer view of the scale of immigration and the real incidence of teenage mothers. People also under-estimate “positive” behaviours like voting, which may be important if people think it is more “normal” not to vote than it actually is.”

Test your knowledge by taking the Perils of Perception quiz yourself.

Source: Perceptions are not reality: Things the world gets wrong


Peter Harris

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