Misperception of minorities and immigrants

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http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~cook/movabletype/mlm/ Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science] is statistcs Blog.  It is primarily written by Andrew Gelman, a professor in the Departments of Statistics and Political Science at Columbia University.

In a July 1,2005 posting Andrew continues an earlier discussion on mispercetion of minorities and minorities. This earlier discussion resulted from by a note from Tyler Cowen reporting that the March Harper's Index includes the statement:

-Average percentage of UK population that Britons believe to be immigrants: 21
-Actual percentage: 8%

Harpers gives as reference the Market & Opinion Reserch Inernational (MORı). We could find this statistic on the MORi website but we found something close to in a Readers Digest (UK) report (November 2000) of a study "Britain Today - Åre We An Intolerant Nation?" that MORi did for the Readers Digest (UK) in 2000. The Digest reports:

  • A massive eight in ten (80%) of British adults believe that refugees come to this country because they regard Britain as 'a soft touch'.
  • Two thirds (66%) think that 'there are too many immigrants in Britain'.
  • Almost two thirds (63%) feel that 'too much is done to help immigrants'.
  • Nearly four in ten (37%) feel that those settling in this country 'should not maintain the culture and lifestyle they had at home'.

The Digest goes on to say:

  • Respondents grossly overestimated the financial aid asylum seekers receive, believing on average that an asylum seeker gets £113 a week to live on. In fact, a single adult seeking asylum gets £36.54 a week in vouchers to be spent at designated stores. Just £10 may be converted to cash.
  • On average the public estimates that 20 per cent of the British population are immigrants. The real figure is around 4 per cent.
  • Similarly, they believe that on average 26 per cent of the population belong to an ethnic minority. The real figure is around 7 per cent.

This last statistic is pretty close to the Harper's Index and the other responses give us some idea why they might over-estimate the percentage of immegrants.

The Harper's Index comments reminded Andrew of an article in the Washington Post by Richard Moral (October 8, 1995) in which he discussed the results of a Post/Keiser/Harvard survey "Four Americas: Government and Social Policy Through the Eyes of America's Multi-racial and Multi-ethnic Society"

The Keiser report includes the following data:


Note that while it is true that the white population signficantly underested the number of Native Åmericans,

Gelman remarks that John Sides sent him following data on the estimated, and actual percentage of foriegn-born residents in each of 20 Euopean countries:


You will find further discussion on this topic by Andrew and John on the July1, 2005 posting on Andrew's blog.


(1) What explainations can you think of that might explain this overestimation. Can you suggest additional research that might claify what is going on here?