“British public wrong about nearly everything” or “Perceptions are not reality”

Democracy is  dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed.

Unfortunately, UK government ministers and the right-wing press have made sure that we are misinformed about (almost) everything – here is the result. The chart is the result of an Ipsos.MORI poll examining the difference between peoples’ perceptions (mean estimates) and reality (actual) when asked questions about the UK population.

Perception and Reality

 Here is another example from the Ipsos.MORI poll (referenced below):

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].

Here is the reality

“With the lowest numbers recorded since 1969, the teenage pregnancy rate is proof of all the hard work of sexual health and education professionals, and the lasting legacy of the decade-long Teenage Pregnancy Strategy.
Read more at http://www.fpa.org.uk/news/teen-pregnancy-rates-continue-fall-england-and-wales#1CdvzfTmfHPWh1cR.99

Was this news on the front page of the Daily Mail.  Of course not – it did not fit their alternative reality.  It would only be on their front page if they could somehow twist the data into a moral outrage about increasing teenage pregnancy.  Even the Mail has failed to manage this – so far.

More from the IpsosMORI poll:

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).

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.

 

These two pieces of research indicate the gap between perception and reality in the British public:

The IpsosMORI Poll – Perceptions are not reality: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/3188/Perceptions-are-not-reality.aspx

British public wrong about nearly everything, survey shows:  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/british-public-wrong-about-nearly-everything-survey-shows-8697821.html

Also:

“Watching Only Fox News Makes You Less Informed Than Watching No News At All” http://www.businessinsider.com/study-watching-fox-news-makes-you-less-informed-than-watching-no-news-at-all-2012-5#ixzz2o2UEgHzE

These are just a few examples of government ministers misinforming the public:

David Cameron Rebuked For Making Misleading Economy Claim, Again:  http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/03/08/david-cameron-obr-economy-growth_n_2836515.html

Ministers who misuse statistics to mislead voters must pay the price.   http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/31/ministers-misuse-statistics-resign

Minister rebuked over immigration statistics:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-16730433

Incapacity benefit test claims ‘conflated figures’ – watchdog: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22720007

Iain Duncan Smith criticised over benefit cap figures:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22462265

Duncan Smith ‘clarifies’ Commons slip over benefit data: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11792700

 

This gives just a few recent examples of tabloid misinformation:

The Daily Mail & The Sun continue to undermine their own case for press freedom: http://www.reasonandreality.org/?p=2837

More:

The Lies of Right Wing Tories, Blairites, Free Marketeers and Neolibertarians:  http://www.reasonandreality.org/?p=2017

Some Questions for our local MP John Glen: http://www.reasonandreality.org/?p=1789

Cameron won’t make me a Minister… I’m a white, married, Home Counties Christian, says Tory MP John Glen: http://www.reasonandreality.org/?p=1494

 

As usual, please let me know if there are any errors in the text above so that I can make corrections. 

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12 thoughts on ““British public wrong about nearly everything” or “Perceptions are not reality””

  1. I was getting into this until I read “…the right-wing press have made sure that we are misinformed about everything…”.

    It is exactly this sort of demogagoic commentary, exactly this sort of naive, partisan sophistry that is partially to blame for the prevailing ignorance the article attempts to address.

    Would it not have been more plausible to not play to the crowd and instead deliver an impartial, non-partisan dissection of the facts? Instead the author has stooped to the level of uninformed ad hominem in the interest of garnering comments and recognition.

    This whole fallacy about the right-wing press is exactly that, a fallacy. The constant unthinking denigration of the usual whipping boy, The Daily Mail is not only largely unwarranted but also incredibly lazy and intellectually dishonest. The Daily Mail is certainly not the world’s best paper but they do regularly tackle issues that the rest of the media deliberately chooses to avoid.

    What is worse: presenting an issue with a degree of editorialism or not presenting it at all?

    Some of the most mean-spirited and slanted articles I have read about these issues have been in the so-called left-wing intelligentsia press, the closet socialist media. Some of the most dishonest reporting I have ever encountered has been on the much vaunted ‘non-partisan’, ‘impartial’ BBC. They are anything but…

    Public perception is skewed because ALL the corporate and state media harbour bias and partisanship and as such we all need to learn the vital skill of gathering our daily news from MULTIPLE sources.

    Apart from that I think the topic was a good one to tackle.

    1. Hi Flying Into The Flak, thanks for popping by.

      You said:
      “This whole fallacy about the right-wing press is exactly that, a fallacy. The constant unthinking denigration of the usual whipping boy, The Daily Mail is not only largely unwarranted but also incredibly lazy and intellectually dishonest.”

      My Response:
      Far from intellectually dishonest it is an easy matter to back this up with unlimited evidence. Hardly a day goes by without a plethora of Daily Mail headlines that are not only factually incorrect but designed to promote a particular political agenda. See below(these are just a few examples that I have had time to gather – there are unlimited examples in the Daily Mail every week):

      The Daily Mail & The Sun continue to undermine their own case for press freedom: http://www.reasonandreality.org/?p=2837

      The hate filled Daily Mail reaches a new low: http://www.reasonandreality.org/?p=2224

      Cameron won’t make me a Minister… I’m a white, married, Home Counties Christian, says Tory MP John Glen:
      http://www.reasonandreality.org/?p=1494

      You also said:
      “Some of the most mean-spirited and slanted articles I have read about these issues have been in the so-called left-wing intelligentsia press, the closet socialist media.”

      My Response:
      It would be good to see some examples of these “mean-spirited and slanted articles” ( I am assuming we are referring to news items and main stream newspapers)

      And you said:
      “Some of the most dishonest reporting I have ever encountered has been on the much vaunted ‘non-partisan’, ‘impartial’ BBC. They are anything but…”

      My Response:
      The BBC has many faults and occasionally makes serious errors – the BBC Newsnight – McAlpine story should never have been aired without concrete evidence and fact checking. But the McAlpine story does seem to be an extremely isolated case. I would suggest that it would be very difficult to produce a list of major headline stories published by the BBC that turn out to be factually incorrect to the extent that appears regularly in the Daily Mail.

      News papers in the UK are unregulated and appear to be able to print pretty much what they like that isn’t directly libellous. The BBC is strictly regulated and it is untenable and objectively provable that the BBC is in a far superior league than the tabloids when it comes to impartiality, to suggest otherwise requires some evidence.

      I am happy to continue this debate but only based on evidence and reasoned discussion.

    2. Funny that the commentator who dislikes the suggestion that the “right-wing media” is in any way to blame should go on to attack the BBC as being dishonest. They’ve been peddling ConDem propaganda for years now. Just see any of the reporting on the Scottish Independence campaign for details…

  2. Flying into the Flak – The person who complains about “naive, partisan sophistry”then goes on to talk about “the so-called left-wing intelligentsia press, the closet socialist media” – irony explosion, or what!

    Before you complain about the mote in other people’s eyes, check the beam in your own.

  3. Agreed with Flying that focusing on political lateralization may lead to unwanted results. Were these survey results to include information about respondents’ media consumption habits and partisan allegiance (if any), some insight might have been gained as to how polarized these issues really are. We need not reify this polarization to make a point about public opinion.

    A few years ago, Dan Ariely and Michael Norton conducted a study of wealth inequality in the US.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19284017
    PDF: http://www.people.hbs.edu/mnorton/norton%20ariely%20in%20press.pdf
    Though there are some differences between those called “conservatives and liberals”, the results show a widespread discrepancy.

    The same year the Norton & Ariely paper was published, Jay Rosen was talking about the fallacy of media ideology (also in the US).
    http://archive.pressthink.org/2010/06/14/ideology_press.html
    We may disagree with his perspective, but it might be useful to overcome these “Right/Left” arbitrary boundaries put on social discourse.

  4. Hi Alexandre, thanks for contributing.

    I agree that the right/left labels are lazy generalisations especially in the absence of any ‘left’.

    However my point is more specific. In the UK the majority of news paper groups deliberately publish disinformation in the furtherance of what can only be called a political agenda. Lets not give that agenda a name but list just some of what it includes:

    Discrediting by smear, distortion and often outright falsehoods:
    The European Convention on Human Rights
    Social security and social security claimants
    Immigration and Immigrants
    Health and Safety legislation
    The EU
    etc etc.

    The common thread is the absence of objective evidence, facts or reasoned debate but the inclusion of smear, innuendo, fearmongering and playing to the lowest common denominator.

    The misconceptions listed in the two sources quoted in my original post correlate very well with the disinformation rampant in our press. Correlation does not imply causation but does not rule it out either.

    “Watching Only Fox News Makes You Less Informed Than Watching No News At All” http://www.businessinsider.com/study-watching-fox-news-makes-you-less-informed-than-watching-no-news-at-all-2012-5#ixzz2o2UEgHzE

  5. Before we immediately question the accuracy of public opinion, I would like to draw people’s attention to the methodology used to gain data.

    “Ipsos MORI carried out 1,015 interviews online with adults aged 16-75. Fieldwork took place between 14th – 18th June 2013. Data are weighted to match the profile of the UK population within that age range.”

    Just to put that into context, if 20% of the population were in a certain age group (using 2011 census data), but only 2% of those surveyed here fitted that group then their response would be magnified by 10x – HIGHLY skewing the results of the survey in their favour.

    Also, the report mentions nothing of the location in which these interviews were carried out. For example, if taken in an area with high levels of immigration then many responses may be influenced by a local perception of ethnicity.

    Finally means were calculated excluding responses given as ‘don’t know’. Therefore the sample sizes are almost certainly less than the 1015 figure quoted.

    Interesting headline-drawing stats, but you have to look into this further before drawing any meaningful conclusions!!

    1. Hi JimTee, you are of course right to cast a critical eye over the polling results and methodology but Ipsos MORI is a reputable polling organisation and as far as I can see your comments do not negate the findings. For example it is inconceivable that the polling did not cover a nationally representative sample of locations although I admit this is not mentioned in the paper.

      If you take a look at the full data here: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/ipsos-mori-rss-kings-perils-of-perception-methodology-note.pdf (scroll to bottom) you will see that the population sampled were surprisingly accurate at estimating figures that were not politically controversial. Again we can discount location bias by looking at the estimate of under-age pregnancy. In every case where the sample population estimates were significantly different from reality, the issue coincided with one where disinformation from media and politicians has been significant.

      I would suggest that the discrepancy between the estimates and reality for the controversial issues is so great that any flaws in the polling do not negate the overall findings of the polls although the associated news paper headlines are as you say an exaggeration (but not much).

      You can of course argue that the individuals giving the unrealistic estimates where influenced by their own preconceived ideas and prejudices and this is likely to be true to a greater of lesser extent. But the correlation between public mis-perception and media disinformation is such that I reckon those who deny any causation have a responsibility to provide some evidence to support their case.

  6. So that I can accuratley perceive the reality, where did the 100 people that were asked from? And what is their background?
    You may get very different figures if you ask 100 people from Bradford rather than 100 people from Chipping Norton.

    1. The sample size was over 1000 and would have been a representative sample from across the UK, see here for the methodology:

      http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/ipsos-mori-rss-kings-perils-of-perception-methodology-note.pdf

      Ipsos.MORI is a reputable polling organisation, any weakness in their method is outlined in the link but does not detract from the overall conclusion. Let me know if you spot any weaknesses not already identified in the link. Please also let me know if you have any evidence that undermines the conclusion.

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