India has been ranked as the most 'ignorant' of a list of 40 countries where respondents were surveyed on their perceptions tested against reality.
The findings of the 2016 Ipsos MORI Perils of Perception Survey released on Wednesday show that Indian respondents mistakenly thought that Muslims make up twice as much (28%) of the population than they actually do (14.2%). Many developed countries were much worse off, with French respondents estimating that there were more than four times as many Muslims in their country (31%) as there really are (7.5%). Muslim-majority Indonesia and Turkey were the only two of the 40 countries that underestimated the Muslim population.
For the Indian sample, the survey was conducted on 500 individuals aged 18-64 between 22 September and 6 November. As the poll was conducted online, the sample was better educated and more well-off than the average Indian but was weighted to the known population profile, an Ipsos representative said. You can take the quiz here.
Fear-mongering about Muslim presence in a country appears to have successfully created a strong misconception about a Muslim population explosion. Every country except Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey, significantly overestimates the likely Muslim population in 2020; in India, respondents thought that more than one of every three people in 2020 would be Muslim while the actual share is likely to be less than half of that at 15.4%.
Indians were also significantly off the mark in guessing the share of GDP that the government spends on health; while the actual spending is less than 5% of the GDP, the survey respondents charitably estimated it at 23%.
Indians were the most far off among all countries in guessing the share of wealth held by the country's rich and poor. While the poorest 70% of Indians hold just 10% of household wealth, the Indian respondents' average guess was 39%.
Indians were also way off the mark in estimating the share of Indians who own their own homes. While the actual figure is 87%--driven largely by the fact that renting is rare in rural India and among non-migrants--the Indians surveyed believed this figure was 44%.
The index was calculated based on the magnitude of error between the average guess and the real number for five factual questions. India also ranked as the second most ignorant in 2015, after Mexico. This year, China, Taiwan, South Africa and the US followed India.
What Ipsos calls "ignorance" could well be lack of access to education or the media. "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, " said Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute . "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."
Note: this story has been updated with a comment from Ipsos on the composition of the Indian sample.