Americans are very mistaken when it comes to perceiving the reality of key social issues. An August 2014 survey conducted by Ipsos MORI, a leading UK research company, found U.S. citizens were the most likely to overestimate the prevalence teen pregnancy rates and underestimate the proportion of Christians in the population compared to the 13 other countries.
Their survey entitled “Perils of Perception: A Fourteen Country Study” gauged levels of perception about key social issues and demographics of their populations compared to the reality. It touches on a number of issues like teen pregnancy, immigration, religion (Christians and Muslims), aging population, voting, unemployment, and life expectancy. Of the eight areas, Americans are the worst when it comes to perceptions about the proportion of Christians and teen pregnancy.
The U.S. was not alone in overestimating teen pregnancy rates. Every country overestimated the prevalence of teen pregnancy. However, the U.S. was the worst, overestimating the percentage of girls aged 15 to 19 who give birth every year by 21 points. The average American thought it was 24 percent, when the actual percentage of teenage girls who get pregnant every year is around 3 percent.
Proportion of Christians
In estimating the proportion of Christians in the population, the U.S. was also the worst of the 14 countries. Americans underestimated the proportion of Christians by 22 points. On average, Americans guessed that 56 percent of the population is Christian.In reality, While Americans underestimated the proportion of Christians in the population, every single country overestimated the proportion of Muslims in the population. Americans estimated that 15 percent of the population is Muslim, when in reality only one percent of the population is Muslim.
But it's not all bad. Americans were very accurate on voting. When asked how many people voted in the last major election, Americans were the most accurate of all 14 countries. Americans guessed that 57% of eligible voters voted in the last presidential election. The real number is only one point higher, 58 percent. Every single country underestimated the proportion of the population who voted in the last major national election.
Americans are influenced by a variety of factors when forming attitudes and perceptions. Education, media, family, socioeconomic background: these all play a role in influencing perceptions. Obviously, as highlighted by the survey, perceptions do not always match up with reality.
The survey concludes by ranking each of the 14 countries according to an “Index of Ignorance” based on responses to the questions. Italy came in first as the least accurate of the 14 countries while the U.S. is not far behind in second place. Perceptions play a large role in society both in terms of attitudes and voting, hence these skewed perceptions can impact election outcomes and policies.