Here is a clear example of this effect:
Asked to estimate the proportion of foreign-born people living in the UK, the average guess is 29.4%. The true figure according to OECD data is 10.8%, lower than Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada and the USA.
How do the public become so misinformed about the scale of immigration?
Here is yesterday's Daily Mail frontpage:
Millions of people will have seen this frontpage headline. However, the numbers are simply untrue. The Office of National Statistics has started to explicitly tell reporters that it is incorrect to use their figures in this way, after countless instances of misreporting by the tabloid press. The Daily Mail deliberately ignored this warning.
This has been going on for many years, and a false perception is created. The government, keen to appease the negative feelings generated by this misinformation, therefore has to respond with promises to reduce net migration to below 100,000.
The consequences of their immigration clampdowns are numerous on both a human and economic level. The latest student visa restrictions will cost the economy around £2.4bn - money we can ill-afford to lose in these uncertain economic times. The family visa restrictions will mean the ability to live with a foreign partner with will depend on income - your wedding vows may have said "for richer or for poorer", but that will now legally not be the case for some.
I could have written a similar article on other issues, for instance law and order. The tabloids lie to us, the public demand action based on misinformation, and the government act on false perceptions rather than the reality.
Never mind the celebrity gossip - this is how the tabloids make our country worse. I welcome the demise of the News of the World, and hope the rest of the gutter press follows suit.