Special Report

What Americans Guess Wrong the Most About America

When it comes to the size of certain subgroups — Hispanics, gun owners, or even vegans —  Americans in a recent survey wildly overestimate their numbers in the United States.

To identify what Americans guess wrong the most about America, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the 34 largest differences between guessed and actual proportions of various subgroups among the U.S. adult population from the report, “From millionaires to Muslims, small subgroups of the population seem much larger to many Americans,” released by national survey company YouGov. 

Smaller ethnic subgroups tended to have greater discrepancy between the percentage that Americans guessed and the actual number. For example, Americans guessed that 41% of the U.S. population is Black, when the actual number is 12%, a 29-percentage point differential. The same was true with other groups, with a 23 percentage point difference between guessed and actual proportion for Asians and 22 points differential for Hispanics. (These are the worst cities for black Americans.)

Americans also overestimate the number of people in smaller religious groups, such as Muslim Americans (estimate: 27%, actual: 1%) and Jewish Americans (estimate: 30%, actual: 2%). 

According to YouGov, misperceptions of the size of minority groups have been attributed to such reasons as fear of out-groups (groups that people don’t identify with), lack of personal exposure to certain groups, or portrayals of the group in the media.

The disconnect applies to subgroups ranging from gun owners, the number of left-handed people, and even vegans or vegetarians, all with overestimated differentials of 22 percentage points or more.

On the flip side, Americans have underestimated the numbers of certain groups, and they might  be pleasantly surprised at the true findings. For example, they guessed that 50% of Americans have household income over $50,000, when in fact over 62% of households do. The actual percentage of people who read a book in the last year was 77%, and Americans guessed 50%. Americans guessed that 65% of adults have at least a high school diploma, when 89% actually do. (These are 56 most amazing things about America today.)

Click here to see what Americans guess wrong the most about America
Click here to read our detailed methodology

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