In comments at Asymmetrical Information, Daniel Davies debunks the story about how 19% of Americans think that their incomes are in the top 1%:
What happened is that there was a tax proposal which would only (or chiefly) benefit a particular set of high earners, about 1% of the population. Someone asked "Do you think this proposal will benefit you?" to a sample of people. Nine [recte: 19] per cent said "yes". This was then reported as "10% [recte: 19%] think they're in the top 1%", rather than "8% [recte: 18%] don't understand this tax proposal properly".
And this seems to be exactly right, according to this op-ed by Brookings Institution folks Carol Graham and H. Peyton Young:
An October 2000 Time-CNN news poll showed that 19 percent of Americans thought that they were in the high income group that would benefit from proposed tax cuts - defined as roughly the top 1 percent of the distribution.
If the poll had asked "Are you in the top 1%?" there would be no need to define this group at all; so it seems like the poll must have been as D-squared describes.
This disturbs me from the point of view of the epistemology of testimony (to put it in a highfalutin way)--I believed this non-fact, and saw it passed around by commentators I usually trust (DeLong, Kleiman), but it just didn't hold up. It's David Brooks' fault, but we should all have known better than to believe him.
One problem is that (as Kleiman notes) it's durn hard to find the results of specific old polls on the net; at least, I couldn't do it with this one, and I tried fairly hard. Anyway, I wanted to record this, in the hope of fighting the urban legend a bit.
--There probably are theories of propositional attitude ascriptions on which, given that only the top 1% would benefit from the tax cuts, "19% of Americans think they're in the top 1%" comes out true in some contexts. But it should come out mostly false.
--I'm not sure it's quite fair of D-squared to say that the claim entailed "that 22.5 million people held wildly delusional views about matters which were right in front of their noses." My income is right in front of my nose, but the percentile of my income is not; all I can say with confidence right now is that it's below the median household income, and I follow these things more than the average.