YouGov survey: People think 56% of what they read is bullshit

With the help of YouGov, I got to ask more than 1,000 people how much bullshit they saw in the things they read. It varies, with an average of 56%. And it’s about the same across a variety of demographic categories.

YouGov has a massive panel of people who answer online surveys: 1.5 million people. They gave me the chance to include a question in their Omnibus survey. On October 26, 2016, we asked a representative sample of 1,190 US adults this question:

Thinking about everything you read each day (e.g., on news websites, in newspapers, in emails, on social media, etc.), what percentage would you say is bullshit? Please answer between 0 and 100.

Opinions vary broadly

People don’t agree on how much bullshit they read. While 56% is the average, their overall opinions are all across the map:

  • Only 6% say there is no bullshit. 94% say there’s at least a little.
  • 86% say more than 20% of what they read is bullshit.
  • 51% say more than half of what they read is bullshit.
  • 8% say more than 90% of what they read is bullshit. Those are some cynical people.

I put this distribution together to create the “bullshit curve” that you see below. If you want to see where you stand, choose a number on the bottom that describes your opinion, then go straight up until you reach the curve. Then go straight to the left. This is how you can tell, for example, that if you say more than 80% of what your read is bullshit, then only 18% of the population agrees with you.


All demographic groups perceive the same amount of bullshit

I pored over the data looking for patterns. There weren’t many. Women were slightly more likely to identify what they read as bullshit than men were (see curves below). Black people were slightly less likely to say what they read is bullshit than white people. People age 55 and older are more likely to see at least some bullshit. But these are all very minor variations.


bullshit-by-race bullshit-by-age


According to the survey, education, geography, marital status, and income made very little difference.

So demographic variables don’t explain which people perceive more bullshit.

What does?

I wish I knew. My wild-ass guess is that the more news you consume, the more sensitive you become to bullshit, but I’ve got no evidence for that.

What do you think makes the most difference in the perception of bullshit? And how could we test it?

About YouGov

I found it rewarding to work with YouGov. Here’s their information, if you want to work with them, too:

YouGov is the global leader in consumer research and intelligence.  Through our broad consumer panel (3 million globally/1.5 million in the US) you can quickly and cost effectively survey consumers and make informed decisions for your marketing, ad/concept testing, PR/media strategy, brand awareness and much more.  Our trusted online methodology helps clients in many industries, including CPG, QSR, OTC, healthcare, financial, governmental organization and charities make informed decisions by providing quick pulse/real-time insights using our data.  

Through our consumer Omnibus, a daily survey of 1,000 nationally representative adults, we provide results back within 24 hours (we can also incorporate images, concepts and videos into your survey).  Our team of expert researchers will help you write questions (or provide feedback on any you may already have) to ensure you’re getting the most useful results from your project.  In addition, if you are in need of reaching a more targeted sample using a more traditional, ad hoc approach we can help with this as well through our Field & Tab team.  Here you are able to customize your targeting for specific types of consumers (i.e. millennials, financial decision-makers, frequent travelers, etc..), questions and sample size to suit your specific research needs. 

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  1. hmmm. wouldn’t it depend on WHAT you read? for news i read the NYT, the minneapolis star tribune and the economist. i don’t see a lot of bullshit there. (i do see undue emphasis on some issues, and not enough coverage of other issues, though.) but when i read Facebook, i am seeing tons of it. some of it is provocative and funny, but it is still bullshit…so, i’d say a small percentage of what i read for news is bullshit, and a large percentage of what i see on FB is bullshit.

  2. Josh – Is there any way to cross-ref the results against the education level?

    I’d be interested to see if better educated people perceive more bullshit.

    1. Steve, I wondered the same thing, but surprisingly, it makes very little difference.

      People with no college say 55% of what they read is bullshit. Those with some college, 58%. Those with 4-year degrees, 59%. And those with Post-graduate degrees, 54%. These are very minor differences, and the post-graduate number goes against your thesis.