Mindshare vs. Demographics

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Karl Smith notes a Gallup poll showing that half of all respondents think more than 20% of Americans are gay or lesbian:

What makes this interesting to me is not that people are bad at demographics.

It’s that I would assume that people’s immediate experience is influencing their estimate of all of America. Yet, 52% of America can’t be experiencing anything like 1 out of every 5 people I know is gay.

So my guess is that most people don’t really get what these numbers mean in terms of their daily life. Of course, to some extent we already knew that but it always interesting to see it come out in actual data.

Yes, people in general are pretty bad with numbers, but I think the real explanation for this is a lot simpler: gay and lesbian issues have been getting a lot of attention in the news lately, and that naturally makes people think they’re more numerous than they really are. And personal experience probably has little to do with it. They themselves might know very few gays, but they just figure that’s because all the gay people live in San Francisco or Seattle or New York.

The real number, by the way, is around 3-4%.

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