In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

Perils of Perception


What do people believe? (Source: Ipsos MORI)

Perceptions are not reality. In politics, our choices are governed by our perceptions, so it matters what people believe. Ipsos MORI have released their latest report, based on 25,556 interviews in 33 countries, on the perils of perception [1].

People were asked about facts on their own country’s population: the percentage of the country’s wealth that the wealthiest 1% own, the proportion of the country that are immigrants, the proportion of adults are overweight or obese, and so on.

Perceptions and Reality

Inaccuracies are widespread. Great Britain leads the pack with the most severe overestimation of the wealth of the richest within their society. The average guess by British people for the “proportion of total household wealth” that “the wealthiest 1% own” was 59%. The reality is 23%. The perception is that the richest people in Britain are more than twice as wealthy as they actually are. This is part of a general overestimation, particularly in developed countries. Only six of the 33 countries underestimated the proportion of household wealth that lies with the richest 1%. The average Russian estimation was 53%, against a reality of 70%.


The public in various countries generally underestimate the proportion of people aged over 20 that are either overweight or obese in their country. The average respondent from Saudi Arabia suggests that 28% of adults in that nation are either overweight or obese, compared to the reality of 71%. Great Britain also gave a low average estimate: 44% to the reality of 62%.

A grave overestimation occurs when people are how many of their country “do not affiliate themselves with any religion”. Indian respondents believed, on average, that 33% of their compatriots had no religious affiliation, against the real figure of 0.1%. Great Britain also overestimates the irreligiosity: an average guess of 45% is above the true figure of 25%.

Facts and fallacies

Immigration is another topic that people generally overestimate the level of, particularly in Latin America. Argentian respondents believed that 30% of their country were born abroad, on average. The reality is 5%. The average British respondent suggest that a quarter of the country were not born in Britain, against the true rate of 13%.


Politics is matter of perceptions, and not reality. It is the role of those engaged in politics to parse through facts and fallacies.

(Video: Hoover Institution)


[1] Duffy, B., and Stannard, J., 2015. Perils of Perception 2015. Ipsos MORI. Available from: [Accessed: 31st January 2016]



This entry was posted on February 10, 2016 by in National Politics and tagged , , , .
%d bloggers like this: