Abandon all hope: the average voter thinks one in four Britons is a muslim

9 July 2013

12:29 PM

9 July 2013

12:29 PM

Last month I wrote a post arguing that an awful lot of opinion polling is worthless. The public mood matters – and measuring it is important – but when it comes to the detail of actual government policy the public is, generally speaking, clueless.

Well, whaddyaknow, but here’s a new Ipsos-Mori survey which confirms my suspicions. The Great British Public may have many virtues and they may be able to tell you that poor Mr Clegg is a wrong ‘un but when you peak beneath the bonnet you begin to fear that newspaper comment threads may not be quite as unrepresentative of the general public as you’d like to think they must be.

For instance, Ipsos-Mori find that “on average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates:  we think that 15% of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, when official figures suggest it is around 0.6%”.

Then there’s this doozy: 29% of respondents think the government spends more on unemployment benefits – the Job Seekers’ Allowance – than on pensions. In fact, pensions cost 15 times as much (rightly so!).


It is not surprising that 26% of people think that the Department of International Development has one of the two or three largest budgets in Whitehall but it is still eye-popping to discover that  “More people select this as a top item of expenditure than pensions (which cost nearly ten times as much, £74bn) and education in the UK (£51.5bn).”

Similarly and given the media’s obsession with the subject it is no great shock to discover that the public massively over-estimates the amount of benefit fraud. Even so, the public gets this wrong by several orders of magnitude, estimating that £24 in every £100 are claimed fraudulently when the official (skewed?) figure is a mere £0.70 per £100.

Nor is the public capable of using its eyes. How else to interpret the finding that “we greatly overestimate the proportion of the population who are Muslims: on average we say 24%, compared with 5% in England and Wales”?

And if you think the great national conversation about immigration sometimes borders on the hysterical you may not be surprised to discover that the British public massively over-estimates the number of immigrants who have come to live and work in this country. The average estimate hazards that 30% of the British population are black or asian (the actual figure is around 11%) and that a whopping 31% of the people living on these islands are immigrants (the true figure is around 13%).

It’s all a bit like the old Irish joke about a tourist asking for directions and being told “well you wouldn’t want to start from here”. But this is the way it is and this is our democracy. But the next time you find yourself outraged by some politician’s witless stupidity you might pause to remember the clay with which they have to work. It’s not a pretty business.

And yet, despite all that, it is worth observing that though the general public are often deluded they remain, on the whole, doggedly decent. Perhaps a quarter of the population – and on some issues more than that – hold views that might make them easy targets for flamboyant demagogues and charlatans. Despite that, the public still – just about – instinctively shies away from such excess. Extremism still has almost no hold on British public life and messy, muddled and ignorant though the public may be they still see through frauds and hucksters whether those reactionaries hail from the far-right or the far-left. That’s something worth remembering too even if we also  sometimes wonder about some of our compatriots.


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Show comments
  • Mary Ann

    Which only goes to show how ill-informed we are, the media have a lot to answer for.

  • Ian Jones

    The belief that international development is higher than pensions is reasonable. Most pensions are funded, and that was the impression given when National Insurance came in. Even now there are no moves to build investments for any of the state pension burden.

  • C. Gee

    At what percentage of immigrants (first, second, third generation?) in the population is it appropriate to have an opinion that there are too many of them? 13%? 33%? And can one assume that at 51%, anti-immigration policy is unlikely to pass? Thinking that correcting statistical ignorance will make political opinion more rational shows the essential post-national distrust and disdain for democracy of the new technocrats who will eventually make voting unnecessary.

  • thanksdellingpole

    More pro-immigrant rubbish. Of course the real figures are much higher, we just don’t know what they are but I’ve got eyes mate, I live in London and don’t tell me there are only a few!

    If it would get them in I’d vote for the BNP, but, ill begin with UKIP.

  • berosos_bubos

    25 % of children are born to foreign mothers. That is a massive , epoch changing, figure.

  • C. Gee

    The only interesting fact in the survey is that when given the correct facts on immigration, most respondents still held the opinion that immigration was too high. How many of the 1000-odd “adults” (16 -74) of the sample were immigrants, I wonder?
    The poll takers mouth inanities about consequences for voting and policy making. The actual political fact is that voters always vote according to their perceptions. And facts are what some voters wish policy to change. Voting is becoming irrelevant, in any case. Those who know what is best for the population will regulate what it may do, without bothering the elected representatives.

  • andagain

    “on average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than
    official estimates: we think that 15% of girls under 16 get pregnant
    each year, when official figures suggest it is around 0.6%”

    It is interesting to think about these numbers. If most girls become fertile at the age of, say, twelve, then only 25% of girls below the age of 16 are capable of getting pregnant in the first place. If in any given year 15% of them DO get pregnant, then the probablility of the average 12-16 year old girl getting pregnant is 15/25 = three-fifths. In other words, more than half the girls in this age range will get pregnant in each year.

    In the four years between the ages of twelve and sixteen, the average girl will have 4*15/25 = 2.4 pregnancies.

    The average girl-next-door will therefore have several abortions and/or children before she leaves school.

    The point is, I doubt that most MORI responders seriously believe this. It is much more likely that they have no idea of the rate and picked a number out of thin air when they were asked.

    Incidently, that quoted officail statistic implies that around one girl in ten gets pregnant by the age of sixteen (16*0.6% = 9.6%). Is 0.6% per year really as low a figure as it sounds before you think about it?

  • Ben Kelly

    Ever since this blog began to be linked to the Spectator site I have wondered why. Seriously, why!? What quality did anyone at the Specator see in his writing that warranted his addition to this site? Every single contribution from Alex Massie has been irritating and out of place. The above is patronising drivel. It is little wonder that the silly old members of the public who live in urban areas that have changed immeasurably and been inundated with immigrants think that there are more nationally then there actually are. That said, shove your statistics pal, they are off, way off. The number of illegals is quite obviously huge, and you trust the benefit fraud statistics too eh? Next why not write about our record low crime figures and best ever GCSE grades!? The misunderstanding coming from the bewildered resident of Bradford, Birmingham, Dewsbury, Slough, Boston, to give a few examples, is not so very different from London metropolitans allowing their view of the country to be shaped by their N8 cafe bar lifestyle really, except it is far more understandable and grounded in reality, despite what you think. Go work for the BBC you ponce.

    • screwtheright

      Agreed Massie doesn’t fit in with far right propagandists at the spectator and tory inbreds ignorant of facts.

      • Ben Kelly

        ‘Far right’ ? Not a particularly sophisticated understanding of politics then? Judging by your inane and juvenile comments you are not really someone who is capable of having a real discussion, just a childish and clueless nonentity. ‘screwtheright’, how insightful. What now, are you going to reply by calling me a ‘tory inbred’ (never voted for the Tory Part before) and scour the forum looking for appropriate places to leave your pathetic and intellectually vacuous comments as if anyone thinks you are consequential? Have fun.

  • Robin Smethurst

    ”Last month I wrote a post arguing that an awful lot of opinion polling is worthless.” – Do you actually realise how fricken lame EVERYTHING you’ve said becomes after that obvious demonstration of your hypocrisy? Worthless unless it suits you to make use of it…would have been more accurate.

  • welshdai

    How many of us British were asked about the muslim infestation of our Christian atheist country?

  • Neil Powell

    Nearly 1 in 4 people in Birmingham are Muslim. Fact. 16.8% in 2001 census rising to 21.8% in 2011. The Muslim population, as a proportion of the city’s population, is currently growing at 0.5% a year.

  • Margot

    There are lots of things on this earth that I’m not in the least interested in – sport, cooking, and many many others…….and mostly I can avoid them in the media – but there is one thing it seems impossible to avoid – Islam. With Ramadan (Oh to be back when I didn’t know what that was!) in full swing there seems to be saturation coverage. Am only surprised the number givenwasn’t higher – 80%?! It must be counter-productive with everyone thinking the only escape is emigration. One can understand Islam being given an airing when there are bombings or killings but as to the nitty gritty of the religion and continually being told how peaceful and loving it all is I DON’T WANT TO KNOW ! (I don’t want to know about any other religion either but I’m not getting others constantly thrust in my face).

    • Augustus

      “According to MEMRI: “The month of Ramadan, the month of fasting, has a special status as the month of religious spirituality and devotion. However, in Muslim tradition it is also perceived as a month of Jihad, a month in which Allah grants military victories to His believers. It was during Ramadan that Muslims triumphed in many battles throughout the history of Jihad for the sake of Allah”
      -Jihad Watch

      And on the Muslim Brotherhood website one learns the following:

      “Fasting [during Ramadan] is one of the most powerful means to educate the human spirit for jihad. Fasting involves a spiritual effort to act in a way contrary to what is accepted, and to completely abandon desires… It also schools the Muslim in patience, resilience, endurance, and sacrifice, which are all traits of the jihad fighter…”

      So there you have it, a creed of aggression looking for a cause, with Ramadan not just intended for fasting, but also to impose discipline. As always in Islam.

  • Tron

    Mr Massie, how many immigrants live in your street and how many are on benifits?

    • Jack

      Irrelevant riposte.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Indeed Mr M and the average voter doesn’t know that 1 in 4 of those mu$lims thought 7/7 was justified or 49% thought it was a USA/Jewish conspiracy – thick eh?

    Still, enough anti-public hysteria..

  • starfish

    Lucky then that we have a national broadcaster that is educating us all to the true facts, untainted and unbiased in any way

  • shaworth

    So let’s all have a good laugh at people who aren’t as intelligent as the renowned mathematician, playwright and classical philologist Alex Massie (or am I getting something wrong there?). Maybe everything would be better if he were given supreme authority, then we could all benefit from his super intelligence and wouldn’t have to worry about the influence of the idiotic public. Given the shining arrogance of this article it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Mr Massie is the sort of person who actually believes this about himself.

    • screwtheright

      Yes they would you inbreeding tory dipstick

  • Keith D

    Any number greater than zero is too many muslims.

  • andy_gill

    People overestimate the number of Muslims because they are often in the news for plotting terrorist atrocities, blowing people up or beheading them, insulting our soldiers, rioting about some imagined offence, or grooming and sexually abusing young white girls.

    • willshome

      Whereas the non-Muslims that make up the vast majority of criminals in this country usually get a line or two at most unless they have actually eaten their victims. Perception is skewed by what newspapers with agendas choose to make prominent.

  • Anthony

    How many British Muslims are there in Britain?

    It turns out that 24% is spot on if they conducted their surveys in Newham.

    The total Muslim population 1.6 million, however, they’re not evenly distributed.

    The Muslim population of England & Wales is 1.54 million.
    The Muslim population of Scotland is about 40,000.

    The Local Authority Districts with the highest Muslim populations are:

    Tower Hamlets – 71,000 (36% of population))

    Newham – 59,000 (24%)
    Blackburn – 27,000 (19%)
    Bradford – 75,000 (16%)
    Waltham Forest – 33,000 (15%)
    Luton – 27,000 (15%)
    Birmingham – 140,000 (14%)
    Hackney – 28,000 (14%)
    Pendle – 12,000 (13%)
    Slough – 16,000 (13%)
    Brent – 32,000 (12%)
    Redbridge – 29,000 (12%)
    Westminster – 21,000 (12%)
    Camden – 23,000 (12%)
    Haringey – 24,000 (11%)

    Of course, that’s just Muslims, many of whom are British.

    In 2010 the Foreign-born population was 7,354,000, a 50% increase over previous decade and 11.9% of the total population.

    Of these, 4.76 million (7.7 per cent) were born outside the EU and 2.24 million (3.6 per cent) were born in another EU member state.

    Sources: Office for National Statistics
    General Register Office, Scotland

    • Shazza

      This is not even taking into account the illegal immigration.

  • Daniel Maris

    What a load of nonsense.

    Firstly most of the issues selected have a lefty Guardian slant. If you asked people how long in prison people who have committed homicide actually serve you’d probably get a much higher figure than is the reality.

    On immigration, we don’t include people like Russian oligarchs who come here on holiday or business visas as immigrants. We also don’t count as immigrants people born here of immigrants or immigrant descendants who don’t speak English in the home or in everyday interactions, who don’t watch or listen to English language TV or radio, who go back to the old country to marry, who don’t share our cultural values…effectively they are members of a community determined to live apart from the rest of us.

    • Ben Kelly

      Hear hear, indeedio, well said.

    • Sam

      A little bit late on this one… But if you’re born here, then that makes you 100% NOT an Immigrant… Are you keeping a count on everyone who watches British TV… Does watching Big Brother and X Factor make you British? I really hope not… And if people do speak another language in their home is that any of your business? Are you really that determined to take away the identity and sense of self of people different to you that it bothers you that they speak a different language in their own home – Where it would never affect you… It is also people like you who push Immigrants and British Muslims away from our people because you alienate them. Imagine coming to a country to work hard, better yourself, or even escape injustice in your homeland to be met with prejudice and discrimination. You’re not exactly gonna be jumping at the chance to join in. This is just very badly veiled racism. What about the 700,000 Brits living in Spain who open up their own Fish and Chip, Pie and Mash shops and pubs. Aren’t they “Determined to live apart” from the rest of the Spanish community – aren’t they there just to get away from the poor weather in England? Or the thousands of Brits who land on small Greek Islands every year to get pissed and leave the towns in a terrible state for the locals to clean up. We have done our fair share of damage to the rest of Europe, and have been chipping away at other people’s culture for centuries and replacing it with a standardized Britishness (but taking the best things for ourselves ofcourse) so take a look in the mirror before you judge other people. I love our country for it’s art, music and literature – I am terribly proud of that, but it is people like you and parts of our history that make me feel a pang of shame.

  • monty61

    So the great unwashed haven’t a clue. Who would have guessed?

  • sarahsmith232

    the ‘benefit fraud is actually only miniscule’ line keeps being trotted out. official stat’s on fraud are useless. Labour spent 13yrs not bothering to investigate, even now, it’s impossible + v expensive to catch people. so drop that line, it’s rubbish.
    immigration and crime are regional. saw Labour Tower Hamlets MP state that crime there is soaring, up by 9% in one yr. if you live in an part of the country with large older population then crime will be dropping. the Left likes to skewer facts by widening out their research, increasing the yrs looked at and including regions which they know will dilute the stat’s. so the national stat’s are rubbish.
    I’ve only ever spent the last 20yrs living in English cities with large Muslim populations, I could care less that Devon’s small Muslim population mean that my experience of Muslims stems from less than 30% of the national adult population. have you ever tried to find a reasonably priced rental in London that isn’t majority Islamic or African?again, so what there aren’t v many Muslims in Norfolk? my quality of life has been dramatically impacted on because of immigration, for yrs, get a clue about respecting that.
    you’d need to living in some remote, isolated part of entirely white Scotland to not know all this. .. . oh.

  • Mr Grumpy

    Yes, Allan, I too used to think that anyone who disagreed with the BBC/Guardian orthodoxy must be stupid.
    Let’s unpack a few of these…
    1. Many/most will have understood “unemployment benefits” as the total benefit bill for those of working age who don’t work. Of which JSA is but a fraction. If you don’t understand that you presumably believe the “bedroom tax” and the like have been introduced out of pure vindictiveness.

    2. Benefit fraud only a fraction of a percent? It all depends what you mean. We now know beyond doubt that vast numbers of people perfectly capable of working have been claiming incapacity benefit. Hundreds of thousands melted away rather than face an assessment. Fraudsters? Not according to official statistics.

    3. The public’s eyes tell them that the Muslim population is expanding exponentially, driven by the combination of immigration both legal and illegal (the latter NOT accounted for in your 5% figure) and above-average birth rates. The census has shown that 10% of under-25s are Muslim (and remember again that illegal immigrants don’t fill in census forms), meaning the share of births is almost certainly well over 10%. I see no reason to think that it will not reach that ludicrously exaggerated figure of 24% within a generation or so.
    But fear not, Allan, I won’t abandon hope in you.

    • Shazza

      Just come back from a weekend in Nottingham – could not believe I was in England; zillions of veils and burkas all pushing prams.

      • sarahsmith232

        have you seen the state of London?

        • Shazza

          Unfortunately I have. When and how is it going to end?

          • sarahsmith232

            the writer is making out that the prob’ is that people think there’s been too much but the stat’s don’t back that up. I think he’s a mile out. in my experience not only do people outside of London have no clue about what took place but people who are from London have no clue either!
            most have never set foot in the East End. outside of London people think it’s still white. what took place has been deliberately hidden from view.
            BTW – nice one to the writer. deleting my original comment shows you can’t take the heat in a debate

            • willshome

              The silliest conversation I’ve ever read. The idea that problems can be deliberately hidden from view by placing them in London? The fact is, the small proportion of Muslims in Britain tends to be concentrated in a few areas. If you are stupid enough to believe that those few areas represent the concentration in Britain as a whole, or the future of Britain as a whole, then you’re bonkers.

    • Daniel Maris

      What you and Mr Massie don’t figure in though is what happens to the non-Muslim population.

      As the population rises, as the economic stress increases and as it becomes evident that the character of whole swathes of our great cities is changing, is there not a danger that the emigration of non-Muslims won’t begin to accelerate? Already 300,000 or more emigrate annually – what if that rose to 500,000 then 700,000 then a million…impossible? a lot of things have seemed impossible in the past.

      We can’t see the future can we? Maybe there will be a Muslim dominated party like Respect that begins to win seats and holds the balance of power in Parliament. It might need only 30-40 seats to be in that position. How different that would make things look, even if the Muslim population were still under 20%. We don’t know what might happen in other countries. What if say Muslims in continental Europe feel under pressure – they might seek sanctuary here.

      We have seen the phenomenon of urban “white flight” as a reality in the 20th century but there might be a big “Kaffir Exodus” (which will include lots of non-white Hindus, animists, Buddhists and others as well).

      You might easily find under those circumstances that what is 20% at the beginning of one decade becomes 30% at the end of the decade, without factoring in any natural or migration increase in the Muslim population.

    • willshome

      If you think the public’s eyes tell them the Muslim population is expanding “exponentially” then you are either illiterate, innumerate or both.

  • Shinsei1967

    Would love to actually see a few of these people giving the crazy answers justify their answers.

    These 25% of UK citizens being Muslims for instance. Where are they all ?

    The foreign aid budget being larger than education. The millions of kids at school, the tens of thousands of teachers, the thousands of schools ? And we give away more in aid ? To what ?

    • White Lightning

      London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford, Nottingham, Leeds, Sheffield and that’s just a few cities off the top of my head. They might not be in your parochial corner of the country, but they’re certainly in my back yard.

      • Shazza

        And soon, they will be in everyone’s backyard.

    • William Haworth

      We have three Muslim families in a village of 700 people, 2% so below the national average. Full face veils, no interaction, no English spoken at home, taking the kids to Pakistan when it suits, establishing a little community ready to expand.

      The clothes make them more visible, that’s why the numbers are overestimated and also, I suspect, one of the reasons why they wear them.

      • Trofim

        Muslims in a village? Which part of the country woud this be then?

        • anyfool

          There is hardly a village of over a couple of thousand without an extended family of these people.
          We neither asked nor voted for this flooding of the country with people of an alien culture who are mainly of a low educational standard.

        • William Haworth

          Suffolk. Check what’s happening in the racing industry these days. It’s cheaper to hire Pakistanis to muck out stables than it is to motivate British unemployed people to take these jobs.

  • Peter Vintner

    “But the next time you find yourself outraged by some politician’s
    witless stupidity you might pause to remember the clay with which they
    have to work”

    It is largely because of witlessly stupid politicians that the “clay” with which they work is as it is. Not vice versa. You only have to look at the contempt government have for their own statistics when informing the public on matters such as immigration, unemployment, teenage pregnancies, crime, NHS etc. The public largely think the way they do because politicians, through the media, are keen on validating the public’s prejudices.
    The NHS is being destroyed and privatised because of public ignorance. Extremism isn’t the only way to ruin a country.