How do people think the U.S. population is distributed?
July 26, 2008 6:10 PM   Subscribe

I recently read the startling result that, in a recent New York Times poll, 8% of white respondents and 17% of black respondents said that the U.S. population was more than 50% black. This got me wondering what the corresponding numbers are for other ethnic group -- but for the life of me I couldn't find any data. What percent of the U.S. population does the median American think is Hispanic? Asian? Jewish? Muslim? Foreign-born? Interesting examples from other countries also welcome, of course.
posted by escabeche to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, should have included the link to the New York Times poll: full results in a .pdf here, with question 80 being the relevant one.
posted by escabeche at 6:12 PM on July 26, 2008

From a 3/90 Gallup Poll referenced here:

"That broke down to eight percent of Americans thinking that Jews are less than 5% of the people, 10% saying that Jews are between 5% and 9%, 25% believing that Jews are between 10% and 19%, 18% estimating that Jews are between 20% and 29%, 12% coming up with between 30% and 49%, and 3% reckoning that Jews are 50% -- or more! -- of all Americans."


"Twelve percent of our Jews think they are 2% of Americans, 13% think Jews are 3%, and 11% say they don't know, which is also a 'proper' answer. But 7% of America's Jews think they are 1% of Americans. Five percent of the Jews thought Jews are 4%. Ten percent of the Jews said they are 5%. Eighteen percent believed Jews are 6-10%. Six percent estimated our Jews to be 11-15%, and 18% of America's Jews projected themselves as over 15% of the population, a whopping margin of error of over 600%."
posted by yort at 6:22 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Firm numbers on the muslim population are hard to come by, since the US census doesn't collect data on religion. Studies have been done based on mosque attendence, national origin, and phone sampling, each with their own problems and varying results. Low end numbers are around 2 million, high end numbers around 6 million. Sorry, no links.
posted by BinGregory at 8:54 PM on July 26, 2008

Ha, totally misread your question, which is much more interesting than the one I answered. I look forward to reading some better responses!
posted by BinGregory at 8:57 PM on July 26, 2008

I think you're just seeing the percentage of respondents who don't care, aren't listening, or actively want to screw with the poll results. If you give a multiple choice question, some percentage of people will either deliberately choose the most ridiculous answer or will pick one at random. In other words, maybe 1% of white people think the country is 50% black, and the other 7% were giving essentially non-responsive answers.
posted by five toed sloth at 10:23 PM on July 26, 2008

To expand on the "not-listening" part of five toed sloth's pretty decent answer, there's also a chance that respondents aren't paying attention to the "U.S. population" part of the question and extrapolating from their local experiences, i.e., someone in a majority- (or even plurality-) black area could assume that "everywhere is like here."
posted by kittyprecious at 7:37 AM on July 27, 2008

There's also the possibility that tons of people are clueless about percentages. Regrettably, the "I'm not sure what 50% means" demographic is probably a statistically significant one.
posted by decagon at 9:56 AM on July 27, 2008

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