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27th Nov 2020

EU citizens overestimate immigrant numbers, survey shows

EU citizens tend to overestimate the number of immigrants and the unemployment rate in their country, a survey has shown.

Ipsos Mori asked 11,527 people from 14 countries via the internet to estimate nine features of their society.

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  • Migrant woman in Athens: Respondents tended to overestimate the number of foreigners in their country (Photo: Zalmai)

The survey, published on Wednesday (29 October) was conducted in nine EU countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom), Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and the United States of America.

The result shows the respondents believed that there were far more immigrants in their country than is actually the case.

While 10.8 percent of the population in the surveyed countries was born abroad, the respondents reckoned it was 24 percent.

Italians think 30 percent of their population are immigrants (it is 7%), while Belgians believe 29 percent of those living in their country were born abroad (it is10%).

The surveyed also showed that people overestimate the proportion of Muslims in their country. On average, they think that 16 percent of their compatriots are Muslim, while only 3 percent in the researched countries are.

French respondents estimated that 31 of every 100 people living in France are Muslim, when actually only eight in 100 are. Britons think the proportion is 21 in 100, (but it is five per 100).

The respondents – who were aged between 16 and 64 – also overestimated the proportion of their population which is older than 65, and the unemployment rate in their country.

Of the 14 nationalities, Italians are wrong about these issues most often. They estimate that 48 in every 100 Italians is 65 or over, but only 21 in 100 are.

Italians also think the unemployment rate is 49 percent when the official rate is 12 percent.

And if the respondents are to be believed, teenage pregnancy is much more widespread than it actually is.

In Britain, 16 percent of teenage girls (15- to 19-year-olds) are thought to have a baby annually – in fact the figure is 3 percent. In Germany, people overestimate annual teen pregnancy by a factor of 35. (14%, when the figure is 0.4%)

Scientific experiments have shown that people have difficulty excluding their prejudices when asked to estimate the percentage of a feature in a population. They tend to overestimate the size of an issue which is present in their recent memory.

“People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory – and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media”, economist Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow.

EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology

The EU executive responds that its public opinion survey is not a statistic, but a snapshot, after concerns were raised over the method that could result in pro-EU bias.

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