Sunday December 18, 2016

Canadians are wrong about Muslims, happiness, and homosexuality

Young Ahmadiyya Muslims attend celebrations of their faith's arrival in Canada, in Toronto on May 7, 2016.

Young Ahmadiyya Muslims attend celebrations of their faith's arrival in Canada, in Toronto on May 7, 2016. (CBC)

Listen 14:46

Canadians think there are way more Muslims in Canada than there really are.

We think a third of Canadians believe homosexuality is immoral, but in reality, only a sliver of the population thinks so.

On average, Canadians believe a quarter of the population think it's wrong to have sex before marriage. In reality, only 15% of us think you should get hitched before hooking up.

We think only 60% of us are happy, where in reality 87% of us say we're peachy keen.

Those are all findings from international polling company Ipsos's annual Perils of Perception survey. In 40 countries, the firm compared people's perceptions of demographic fact, with actual demographic fact. And in most cases, found that people are way off.

Out of the 40 countries involved, Canada was ranked 12th in the "Index of Ignorance." 

Darrell Bricker, Global CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, says people's misperceptions have consequences for public policy.

"We are fascinated by this idea of myth and reality. What people actually think they know, and what the truth is, and what the comparison point is. And the reason why it's so interesting is because so much of the politics that we see today tends to be driven by this misperception. So if people actually knew the truth they might have a different point of view." 

So much of the politics that we see today tends to be driven by this misperception. - Darrell Bricker, Ipsos Public Affairs

One area where Canadians, and most western countries, are particularly wrong is the size and growth rate of Muslim populations. According to the polling, Canadians on average believe that 17% of the population is Muslim. The reality is, according to the 2011 National Household Survey, only 3.2% of us are Muslim.

Canadians also believe that by 2020, or just a little over three years, 27% of the population will be Muslim. That means people think that over 1 in 4 people in Canada will be Muslim. Bricker says, while the Muslim population is growing, that perception is bizarre.

"It's the fastest growing religion in Canada, but the truth is, when you look at the overall amount of population growth that's taking place, even though the Muslim population is growing, it's a drop in the bucket."

Jasmin Zine, a sociology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, says the perception that Muslims are swamping Canada is part of a "moral panic" driven by media and politicians. To Zine, when a politician makes it a priority to ban the niqab in public service, when few or no people in the federal public service actually wear niqab, it gives people the impression that the Muslim population is both insidious, and rapidly overtaking the non-Muslim population. 

Whenever there's a new influx of communities in our history there's been moral panic around how they may change the fabric of society. - Jasmin Zine, Wilfrid Laurier University

"There have been moral panics in Canada about various immigrant groups, whether it was the Chinese, and there was many forms of systemic racism there. Indians came to work in Canada and there were moral panics around that as well. Whenever there's a new influx of communities in our history there's been moral panic around how they may change the fabric of society. And we're seeing those tropes in new ways with this notion of the 'old stock Canadians' and the 'Canadian values test' which is echoing the kinds of things happening in Europe in the last decade as well. Hence the idea that the Muslims are coming."

To Bricker, the data in the survey is cause for optimism, as it shows Canadians only think society is sad, divided, and intolerant, but in reality we're a happy, inclusive, well adjusted bunch. The big takeaway for Bricker is that the media and politicians spend more time trying to exploit people's ignorance, than celebrating our success. 

 Instead of focusing on racism, instead of focusing on anger, instead of focusing on people who are unhappy, let's have a news broadcast that's actually closer to the truth. - Darrell Bricker, Ipsos Public Affairs

"We have to put some of the blame and some of the shame on politicians who drive into these areas because they believe there's some political advantage based on the public's ignorance.  And take tonight's news broadcast. Instead of focusing on racism, instead of focusing on anger, instead of focusing on people who are unhappy, let's have a news broadcast that's actually closer to the truth, in which we've seen a decline in bigotry. In which we've seen an increase in the level of happiness in this country."

According to Ipsos: The survey is conducted in 40 countries around the world, via the Ipsos Online Panel systemApproximately 1000 individuals aged 16-64 or 18-64, 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.