22/12/2017 13:43 SAST | Updated 22/12/2017 15:50 SAST

South Africans Get Our 'Facts' VERY Wrong – Perils Of Perception Survey

We've topped the global misperceptions index: way off the mark on the national murder rate, teen pregnancies, immigrant prison inmate numbers and more...

South Africans are the people most likely to perceive things to be worse than they actually are, Ipsos' 2017 survey entitled "Perils of Perception" has revealed.

Ipsos' global survey examines the gap between people's perception and reality in 38 countries, and why people may overstate -- or underplay -- what's really going on.

South African respondents to the survey, it has been shown, were likely to give the least accurate "guestimations" in categories such as murder rates, immigrant prison inmate numbers and teen pregnancies, and got things terribly wrong in many others.

The country has now nabbed the top spot in the "Misperceptions Index" from India, the nation that topped the survey in 2016 (and now appears in fifth place).

South Africa was joined –– but unfortunately not outdone –– by Brazil, Peru and the Philippines in the top section of the ranking, while those surveyed from Sweden, Norway and Denmark (at the bottom of the ranking) were most accurate about the true state of their countries.


Most notable was South Africans' responses to whether they reckoned the murder rate in the country since 2000 had risen, decreased or stayed about the same.

85 percent of respondents said they believed the murder rate had increased –– when, according to data presented by Ipsos, it had actually fallen 29 percent. In "A Citizen's Guide To SAPS Crime Statistics" produced by UCT's Centre of Criminology in 2015, expert crime analysts similarly said the national murder rate -- "contrary to what many may intuit" -- had "steadily" decreased from the early 2000s by about 23 percent*.


According to the survey, exaggerated pessimism about countries' national murder rates was a global trend, with only about 7 percent of people reckoning the rate was lower than it was in 2000. Meanwhile, in most countries surveyed, according to Ipsos, murder rates globally were significantly down –– by an average of 29 percent across all 38 nations.

While South Africans surveyed showed a disjuncture between perception and reality with respect to trends in the murder rate since 2000, the number of murders in South Africa has nevertheless steadily increased over the last few years following notable declines in the 2000s.

The SA Police Service recorded a sky-high 19,016 murders in 2016/7, up from 18,673 in 2015/6. The murder rate currently sits at 34.1 per 100,000 people or an average of 51.2 people per day, according to AfricaCheck.

Immigrant prisoners


Second only to the Netherlands, South Africans hugely overestimated the proportion of prison inmates in the country who are immigrants. As an average, South Africans guessed that 37 percent of the prison population were immigrants, when the actual figure, according to Ipsos, is 6.3 percent.

The U.S., France, Great Britain, Argentina, Peru, Australia and others were among those with similar (severe) overestimations. In the U.S., respondents reckoned foreign-born prisoners make up 32 percent of the prison population, while in reality, the figure is only 5.2 percent.

Conversely, Saudi Arabian respondents were way off the mark in the opposite direction, guessing that only 26 percent of their prison inmates are immigrants, when the actual figure is 72 percent.

Teen pregnancy

Respondents' approximations of the extent of teen pregnancies -- across all the countries surveyed -- were the least accurate overall.

South Africa, again, was a big scorer, second on the list only to Brazil.

Guessing the percentage of women and girls aged 15 to 19 who give birth in the country each year, local respondents reckoned it to be about 44 percent, whereas Ipsos' figures suggest the actual rate is much, much lower: 4.4 percent.


Saffers are way off the mark

Other answers showing that South African respondents were way off the mark -- or at least, not quite in the know -- include a question on the relationship between vaccines and autism.

Despite the claim that some vaccines cause autism in healthy children having been widely discredited, 30 percent of local respondents believe that to be a fact, while 35 percent said they were not sure. Only 34 percent agreed conclusively that the claim is false.

These are some of the other inaccurate beliefs held by South African survey respondents**:

1. Out of every 100 people aged 25-79, how many do you think have diabetes?

Guess average: 41; Actual: 8**. Country inaccuracy ranking: 6

2. Out of every 100 deaths of (i) women and girls and (ii) men and boys aged 15 to 24, about how many do you think were as a result of suicide?

(i) Women and girls -- Guess average: 26; Actual: 0.6**. Country inaccuracy ranking: 1

(ii) Men and boys -- Guess average: 27; Actual: 1.1**. Country inaccuracy ranking: 1

3. Out of every 100 people, how many do you think own a smartphone?

Guess average: 80; Actual: 36**. Country inaccuracy ranking: 7

4. Out of every 100 people aged 13 and above, how many do you think have a Facebook account?

Guess average: 73; Actual: 20**. Country inaccuracy ranking: 3

Perhaps the best response from South Africans was how confident they were that their answers were correct. Although topping the overall rankings for the survey for the least accurate responses, South Africans were still the 13th most confident out of 38 countries.

Ironically, Norway's respondents –– who were the second most accurate overall in their answers -- were the least confident in the answers they gave overall.

Which might be a lesson in itself.

The full Ipsos findings, which include further information on the survey and its contents, can be accessed here.


*Based on calculations made by expert crime analysts in 2015. The full 2015 document from UCT can be accessed here.

**All figures/data contained in the article are based on information contained in the Ipsos survey, and have not been compared with other databases that may present differing figures.