Public perceptions: What do you know?
An ‘Irish Times’ poll tests public knowledge of Irish life, Government spending and social-media usage, among other subjects. We have a lot to learn
The level of public knowledge about some of the key economic and social facts of life in Ireland today, as revealed in the latest Irish Times Ipsos MRBI poll shows we have a limited understanding of how public money is spent and of how society has changed in recent years. We also believe Ireland compares unfavourably with other countries, and we significantly overestimate the prevalence of Facebook and Twitter.
A majority of those polled believe that most of the welfare budget is spent on unemployed people, whereas in fact pensioners are the biggest beneficiaries. The majority, 62 per cent, thought unemployed people got most, 16 per cent thought pensioners received the biggest proportion and 17 per cent believed the biggest share of the welfare budget went on child benefit.
Interestingly, people under 24 were most inclined to believe that pensioners fared worst but the mistaken belief about how the €20 billion welfare budget is shared out was prevalent across all age groups and social classes.
The public also rates Ireland poorly as a place to live, when asked where Ireland might come on the UN Human Development Index, which measures 186 countries’ performance under headings such as wealth, health, education and happiness. The average guess was that we come 35th in the world, when in fact Ireland is a very respectable seventh.
On questions about taxation and fairness there are also very mistaken impressions. There has been a lot of political debate about whether the top 10 per cent of earners should be asked to pay more tax, but voters overestimate greatly the income of the country’s top earners.
When asked what income would be required to be in the top 10 per cent, the average response is €153,000. The actual figure is €75,000, according to the Revenue Commissioners, and that includes couples who are jointly assessed for tax purposes.
There is no huge variation across age groups or classes, but Labour supporters were easily ahead of all other categories in coming up with the right answer.
People were also wrong about what share of total income tax is paid by the top 10 per cent. The average figure given was 28 per cent, when it fact it is more than double that, at 59 per cent.
Respondents also appear to make incorrect assumptions about how much taxpayers’ money goes to politicians, compared with the sum spent on welfare or the wider public -service pay bill. Almost half of the respondents said that politicians as a group receive most from the public purse, when in fact the entire political system, at national level, costs about 0.5 per cent of the welfare bill.
It is possible that some people misinterpreted this question and thought they were being asked whether individual TDs were paid more than individual welfare or public-service payments, but the response tallies with other aspects of the poll.