Perils of Perception: Canadians Are Out of Touch with Factual Realities of Global Issues and Features of Their Population

Canada Ranks 12th-most Ignorant out of 40 Countries

Toronto, ON - In the newest Ipsos global survey conducted across 40 countries, results highlight how many people are out of touch with the realities of key global issues and the features that make up the population of their country. The results reveal that Canadians are lacking factual knowledge on not only global issues but on their nation's characteristics.

Canadian Misperceptions

  1. Current Muslim population: Canadians immensely overestimate the current proportion of people living in Canada who are Muslim: Off by 14 points (Perception: 17%; Actual; 3.2%)
  2. Future Muslim population: By 2020, Canadians project that the proportion of the Muslim population in Canada will be 27% (Actual 2.8%). Off by 24 points
  3. Happiness: Canadians are somewhat pessimistic, thinking only 60% of the population is happy, while the reality is that 87% currently define themselves as personally happy. Off by 27 points
  4. Homosexuality: When asked what percentage of people in Canada believe homosexuality is morally unacceptable, Canadians were off by 18 points (Perception: 33%; Actual: 15%)
  5. Sex before Marriage: Canadians think that one in four (25%) of us personally believe that sex between unmarried adults is morally unacceptable, while the reality is that just 15% think this, overestimating by 10 points.
  6. Abortion: When asked about abortion being morally unacceptable, Canadians estimated 39% of the population believed this, overestimating the degree to which Canadians actually have this point of view (Actual: 26%). Off by 13 points
  7. Wealth distribution: Canadians overestimate the percentage of total household wealth that the least wealthy 70% of Canadians own: Off by 9 points (Perception: 25%; Actual 16%)
  8. Home-owners: Canadians are unaware of the housing market, believing out of every 100 households only half (50%) are owned by someone who lives there, with the reality being 67% - underestimated by 17%
  9. Health spending: Canadians are optimistic in this category, as they believe 28% of Canada's total annual Gross Domestic Product is spent on health expenditure each year, but the reality is only 10% is spent each year. Off by 18%
  10. Current population: Canadians were fairly close when estimating their current population: Off by 2% (Perception: 35 million; Actual: 35.85 million)
  11. Future population: Canadians also have a good idea of what the national population will look like in years to come, guessing that according to the United Nations by 2050 Canada's population will be 45 million - only off by 2% (Actual: 44.14)
  12. Trump: Predicting the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election was not a strength for Canadians. Six in ten (61%) believed Hillary Clinton would be elected, while only 17% named Donald Trump the winner.

160"Index of Ignorance"

Looking across the five questions on factual realities, an "Index of Ignorance" scale was created to measure the accuracy of each country's survey results, with a ranking of 1 on the index indicating the least accurate country. Canada placed 12th in the index, far off from being most accurate, while India receives the dubious honour of being the most inaccurate, followed by China. Deemed the most accurate is the Netherlands, having the best understanding of their population's characteristics and social issues, trailed by Great Britain in 39th place.

1IndiaLeast accurate
4South Africa160
17Hong Kong160
37Czech Republic160
38South Korea160
39Great Britain160
40NetherlandsMost accurate

Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, London, said:

"Across all 40 countries in the study, each population gets a lot wrong.160160 We are often most incorrect on factors that are widely discussed in the media, such as the proportion of our population that are Muslims and wealth inequality.160 We know from previous studies that this is partly because we over-estimate what we worry about.160

But in this new study we also show that we're often unduly pessimistic about how happy people are and our tolerance on controversial issues such as homosexuality, sex before marriage and abortion.160 In many countries, particularly in the West, we have a picture of our population that is unduly miserable and intolerant.160 This is important: we know what people think of as the norm is important in affecting their own views and behaviours.160

We also get facts wrong that will make us focus on some issues more than they perhaps deserve: for example, we tend to think our populations are much less likely to own their own home than they actually are.160 In many countries we have received the message loud and clear that pressure on housing and affordability are serious issues, but we've underestimated how many still own their home.160


There are multiple reasons for these errors - from our struggle with simple maths and proportions, to media coverage of issues, to social psychology explanations of our mental shortcuts or biases. It is also clear from our "Index of Ignorance" that the countries who tend to do worst have relatively low internet penetrations: given this is an online survey, this will reflect the fact that this more middle-class and connected population think the rest of their countries are more like them than they really are."



Notes to Editors:

  • For further information, please contact Hannah Millard on 0203 059 4646.

Technical note:

  • These are the findings of the Ipsos MORI Perils of Perception Survey 2016. 27,250 interviews were conducted between 22nd September - 6th November 2016.
  • The survey is conducted in 40 countries around the world, via the Ipsos Online Panel system in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, USA, Vietnam. The following countries used either online or face-to-face methodologies: Czech Republic, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Serbia.
  • Approximately 1000 individuals aged 16-64 or 18-64 were surveyed in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Spain, USA, and approximately 800 individuals aged 18-64 were surveyed Czech Republic, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Serbia. Approximately 500 individuals aged 16-64 or 18-64 were surveyed in the remaining countries.
  • The "actual" data for each question is taken from a variety of verified sources including The World Values Survey and Pew Research Center. A full list of sources/links to the actual data can be found here.
  • Attitudinal data (where existing sources were not available) was collected in separate surveys conducted between September and November 2016. Data was collected using a combination of online, telephone or face-to-face methodologies.
  • Where results do not sum to 100, this may be due to computer rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don't knows or not stated responses.
  • Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Darrell Bricker, PHD
(416) 324-2001
Ipsos Public Affairs
[email protected]

About Ipsos

Ipsos ranks third in the global research industry. With a strong presence in 87 countries, Ipsos employs more than 16,000 people and has the ability to conduct research programs in more than 100 countries. Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos is controlled and managed by research professionals. They have built a solid Group around a multi-specialist positioning-- Media and advertising research; Marketing research; Client and employee relationship management; Opinion & social research; Mobile, Online, Offline data collection and delivery. Ipsos has been listed on the Paris Stock Exchange since 1999.

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