Americans Vastly Overestimate the Size of Minority Groups, Poll Finds

Americans Vastly Overestimate the Size of Minority Groups, Poll Finds

According to research conducted by data analytics firm YouGov, Americans grossly overestimate the proportion of minority groups, which include a variety of races and sexualities. “Americans have a habit of grossly exaggerating the number of minority groups. This is true for sexual minorities, such as homosexuals and lesbians (estimate: 30 percent, true: 3 percent), bisexuals (estimate: 29 percent, true: 4 percent), and transgender persons (estimate: 21 percent, true: 0.6 percent) “The results were reported by YouGov.

“It also applies to religious minorities, such as Muslims in the United States (estimate: 27%, true: 1%) and Jews in the United States (estimate: 30 percent, true: 2 percent). The same kind of overestimations may be seen for racial and ethnic minorities, such as Native Americans (estimate: 27%, true: 1%), Asian Americans (estimate: 29%, true: 6%), and Black Americans (estimate: 41%, true: 12%).” Though fear of “other” groups may have had a role, YouGov attributes the results primarily to our incapacity to estimate tiny or big numbers.

In a blog post, they noted, “Misperceptions of the number of minority groups have been observed in past studies, which observers have typically ascribed to sociological causes: fear of out-groups, lack of personal experience, or media depictions.” “However, consistent with previous research, we find that the tendency to overestimate small proportions and underestimate big ones, regardless of the subject, is really one instance of a general tendency to overestimate small proportions and underestimate large ones.”

They point out that black Americans overestimate the number of black Americans in the United States (52% estimate vs. 12% actuality), but non-black Americans believe that 39% of Americans are black. Similarly, first-generation immigrants are more likely than non-first-generation immigrants to overestimate the number of first-generation immigrants. Other groups, such as left-handers, followed the same pattern. They cite a meta-analysis from 2017 that indicated that when individuals make estimates when their personal experience tells them the figure would be exceptionally high or low, they think their estimate is skewed by their own experience.

When confronted with this, individuals tend to alter their original estimates to what they perceive to be the average group size – or 50%. In this study, for example, Americans were more prone to underestimate the percentage of the population who are Christians – 70 percent of Americans are Christian, whereas estimates were 58 percent. Though you might think that exaggerating (for example) the number of immigrants in the country would influence some Americans’ views on immigration policy, YouGov points out that recent studies have found that correcting people’s numbers with the actual numbers had no effect on their attitudes toward immigration.