UKREN blog

Wednesday 14 February 2018

Public misconceptions and overestimation of migration statistics

A heavy political and media focus on immigration has been met by often alarmist responses from the public. Although Ipsos (2014) warn that causes and effects in public estimations of immigration statistics are complex, it not difficult to imagine that frequent use of phrases such as ‘migration crisis’ can to an extent give rise to a warped idea of the threat or proportionality of migration.

Recent research has shown that many countries are vastly overestimating immigration:

  • In Scotland, the average estimate is that 25% of people living in Scotland were born outside of the UK. This is 18% higher than the actual estimate of 7% (IPSOS MORI, 2018)
  • In Italy, this disparity between actual and perceived number of migrants is greater still. Whist actual figures show that migrants account for 8% of the total population in Italy, 35% of the population believe that they account for 16% and 25.4% believe they account for 24% of the population (EURISPES, 2018)

Immigration statistics are not the only figures that are overestimated by the public. In Ipsos’s latest ‘Perils of Perception’ survey (2017) they find that:

  • Whilst only 15% of prisoners in their countries are immigrants, people vastly overestimate this figure in their country with the average guess at 28%. In Britain the average guess was 34% of all prisoners were born in a foreign country but the actual figure is more like 11.8%.

Emily Grey, the managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland said:

 “This misperception is partly because we overestimate what we worry about: the more we see coverage of an issue, the more widespread we think it is. We are often least accurate on issues that are widely discussed in the media or highlighted as challenges facing our society, such as immigration.”

Interestingly, Ipsos (2014) report that myth busting is actually unlikely to have a big impact on dispelling concerns like these as a part of the reason why people may be making these estimates is because they are expressing their concern as much as they are trying to get the right answer. How then should we mitigate these emotive concerns about migration?

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