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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Misoverestimating minority populations

It worries me that people so consistently overestimate the populations of all minority groups. We know that estimation is difficult, but the magnitude of the errors that I see has genuine political implications for us as citizens. This isn’t just a Weston problem or just a Dorchester problem: a white student from Weston and a black student from Boston are about equally likely to think that 40% of Americans are Jewish. Or that 50% of Americans are black. Or that 30% of Americans are Muslim.

What’s wrong with this picture?

To start with, how do people think that Bush ever got elected if their perception of American demographics were even remotely accurate? And what’s more troubling is that these vastly inflated impressions of the number of Jews or the number of blacks are all too reminiscent of Nazi Germany, where Hitler played on fears that the Jews were too numerous and too powerful. In fact we have enormous white populations in the American heartland who fear the cities on the coasts and already think that Jews, blacks, and Muslims are both too numerous and too powerful.

In fact, the United States is approximately 13% black, 2% Jewish, and 1% Muslim (depending on who’s counting).

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