Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Perils of Perception Survey

The Royal Statistical Society and King's College London have commissioned an Ipsos MORI poll on public perception of society.

1,000 people across the UK were interviewed on a range of topics. The results are fascinating and show how, in some cases, public opinion can be very divergent from reality and the results show how divergent public opinion can be from reality. For example:

Q : Which do you think the UK Government spends more on, Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) or state pensions?
The British Public said : Pensions (47%)
The reality is : Pensions (£74bn vs £5bn for JSA). Well done British Public.

BFTF notes that the results from this particular question were presented somewhat differently in the survey's press release:

" 9% 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)"

Q: What percentage of the British population are Muslim ?
The British Public said : 1-10% (modal choice) or 24% (mean value), which just goes to show how even the choice of statistic can convey different meanings
The reality is : 5%, see below for some of the data
Proportion of the population the people think are Muslim

Q: Which two or three, if any, of the following areas do you think the UK Government spends the most money on?
The results from this question are shown below, ranked in order of actual spend – it can be seen that "Overseas Aid" is thought by many to be a much bigger recipient of funds than it actually is.

What people think the Government spends money on,
 versus what the Government actually spends money on

Q: Which one of the following do you think saves the most money?
A: The results (shown below) suggest that the British Public broadly understand which measures save the most money – except for the household benefit cap, which stands out as being something that many people believe will save a significant amount of money but, in reality, won't. Who, BFTF wonders, is responsible for giving the public this misleading impression…

What people think will save the government money,
vs what will actually save the government money

Q : In your opinion, what proportion of girls under the age of 16 years in Britain get pregnant each year?
The British Public said : 15%
The reality is : 0.6%

Q: True or False : Crime is falling.
The British Public said : 58% of respondents said this was False
The reality is : True, crime has fallen by 53% since 1995

Hetan Shah, executive director of the Royal Statistical Society, commented that:

"We need to see three things happen. First, politicians need to be better at talking about the real state of affairs of the country, rather than spinning the numbers. Secondly, the media has to try and genuinely illuminate issues, rather than use statistics to sensationalise. And finally we need better teaching of statistical literacy in schools, so that people get more comfortable in understanding evidence.’

While Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute and Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s college London added that :

“However, we need to avoid dismissing public opinion: everyone has a vote, misperceptions have always been with us and they may reflect concerns – that is, people may over-estimate issues because they are worried about them, not the other way round. A lack of trust in government information is also very evident in other questions in the survey – so “myth-busting” is likely to prove a challenge on many of these issues. But it is still useful to understand where people get their facts most wrong.”

Press Release,Full Survey