In the game show Family Fortunes, families were tested to see if they thought like the general public. They gave answers to a series of braindead questions, such as naming a vegetable that you chop, or suggesting something you might write on a postcard. These answers were then compared to the answers given by a survey of the general public, with the highest score for the answers that matched what the public said. Nobody ever stopped to question why anyone should deserve a prize for thinking like the general public. To my mind, prizes might be deserved for thinking differently, but not for thinking the same as the average dolt-in-the-street. But possibly I am alone in that respect.
One of the most memorable features of Family Fortunes was the display of a big ‘X’, and the accompanying duh-durr sound effect, whenever a contestant gave an answer that matched none of those given by the survey…
Cheesy presenter: We asked a hundred people to name something you wear two of, at the same time…
Cheesy presenter: You said ‘hats’. Our survey said…
Cheesy presenter: I’m sorry, nobody said hats. Top answer was ‘socks’; 39 people surveyed gave that answer.
But you have to wonder what the answers would have been like, if the questions had been a little more difficult. Not very difficult. Not finding-the-secret-of-delivering-cheap-and-plentiful-nuclear-fusion difficult. Just so difficult that we might expect the average voter to have some have knowledge of the issues, before they mark their own ‘X’ on a ballot paper. Thanks to Ipsos Mori, we now have a survey of what the British people think they know about important topics. And the conclusion is that they know bugger all. Now, I could have a lot of fun by pointing out how most people are pretty ignorant. But lots of people have done that already (see here, for one example). Instead, I will have even more fun by pointing out what the outlier answers were – the answers given by small percentages of the population, but which are so stupid, that you begin to understand why they would struggle with questions about vegetables.
Consider the following. 1% of the population think that over 70% of Brits are Muslim. Do these people live in Bradford, and have they never left the city? Even in Bradford, Muslims will comprise less than 70% of the population. However, that skewed view is pretty mild, when you see that 1% think that 90% of Brits are over 65 years of age. These people probably heard the message that the country is facing a pension crisis, and the fear grew so large that they now see geriatrics wherever they turn. And there is another 1% who believe over 90% of Brits are black or Asian. Which would imply the English Defence League is unlikely to prevail. And it would explain why the British National Party does not discriminate in who can be a member.
Immigration is a hot button topic in British politics, but you have to wonder if some people are training themselves to spot an immigrant from a mile away, and why they are not given the job of guarding the country’s borders. Without being prompted about possible answers, 12% believe that more than half of the population are immigrants. Maybe they are thinking of how the original Anglo-Saxons were Germanic immigrants from the European mainland, but I doubt it. Oddly, a bit of prompting lowers the answers given to this question. Even so, after prompting, 6% still think that over half the population are immigrants.
It is well known that the population is cynical about politics, but some people’s cynicism about politics is so great, that the rest of the population cannot keep pace. For example, 5% think that fewer that fewer than 10% of the population voted in the last general election. In fact, over half the population voted, which is not bad, considering more than a sixth of the population is not eligible to vote.
There is also a lot of cynicism about declining moral and family standards. 1% think that over 90% of the population (the whole population!!!!) is a single parent. Clearly these people need to be forced to attend remedial maths lessons. It is not even possible for 90% of the population to be a parent (single or otherwise), given that some of the population has to be the kids. And yes, kids can be parents too, but eventually somebody has to have a kid who is too young to be a parent. Although some people have doubts about that too. 7% believe that more than 40% of girls under the age of 16 get pregnant. And 1% believe that 90% of kids live in poverty. Which is not that surprising, if you believe the average newborn is raised by a schoolkid, perhaps with a little help from a single parent grandmother and a single parent great-grandmother.
It seems many think the worst of their fellow man. 17% believe that more than half of all crimes are violent. That seems an odd belief, given that bankers and politicians get accused of an enormous number and range of crimes, but rarely violent ones. We all know the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer, even though this is a falsehood repeatedly endlessly by people who believe nonsense they hear down the pub. Even so, you have to wonder about the state of economic pessimism in the UK. When asked how many working age people are unemployed, 1% believed that over 90% of the country is unemployed. 8% think it is more than half. 51% think it is 11% or more. A further 23% were unable to give an opinion. Only 29% correctly stated that unemployment lies in the range of 1-10%. Presumably some of these people must commute to work with big grins on their faces, overjoyed at their good fortune to have a job. And when they arrive, they must be slightly surprised to find that other people work at the same place that they do.
Even workers seem to have little idea about how much people get paid. 11% of the population believes that the median annual salary, before tax, is less than £10K. In total, 54% of the population underestimated the median annual salary. And they did this despite headline after headline being devoted to the new government policy of implementing a benefit cap so that no family can receive benefits that add up to more than the median salary, which is £26K per annum. Apparently, some people are very upset by the benefit cap, believing that families cannot survive on less than £26K per year. And yet, most of the population thinks most people earn a lot less, even before tax is deducted. This leaves it unclear if times are hard, because people earn so little, or if we are enjoying relative prosperity, because most people are earning far more than what they believe to be average.
Nevertheless, some Brits have clearly succumbed to wild optimism. Politicians often like to remind the public that the country (and the world) is gripped by the gravest financial crisis since Henry VIII ran out of monasteries to dissolve. However, some people still fail to comprehend. 18% of Brits think that government debt has actually gone down in the last two years. Which is odd, because a brief review of history shows that reductions in government debt occur even less frequently than Kings called Henry. Even so, Brits were asked to help with solving the nation’s problems. Respondents were given a list of 8 ways to cut government expenditure. When asked which of the 8 cuts would save most money, 4% said “none of them”. Yes, you read that correctly. When asked a question which demands an answer is picked from a list, some people are so stupid that they still give a different answer instead. When the question was reversed, and people were asked which of the 8 cuts would save the least money, 2% answered “none of them”. It now becomes difficult to understand what cuts they had in mind, when contemplating how to save the least money, without limiting themselves to the list in front of them. Perhaps we should save money by taking away their right to vote, and seeing if they can calculate the implications of that. To my mind, there could only be one outcome: a better government. As Churchill once said, democracy is the worst form of government, apart from all the others. And yet, if reduced in the right places, a little less democracy might be a very good thing.