Two-Thirds of the Public Doesn’t Understand Data, Yet its Power Over Them is Growing, Study Finds

First-ever public opinion poll about data and its influence on the
public reveals a “data divide” and a new class of “data influencers”

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–#datadivide–Data is the new influence and its power over the public is growing. That
is the headline finding of the first public opinion poll ever done about
the public’s attitudes, knowledge and behaviors about data. The report,
“Transformation of Influence: How Data is Changing Attitudes and
Decisions,” was released today by Research+Data Insights (RDI), the
research practice of Hill+Knowlton Strategies (H+K), with support from
AIG, H+K and Group SJR.

The availability of increasing amounts of data is having a growing
influence over how the public makes decisions, the report
finds. The public wants data to help them make choices, for everything
from what news source they should trust (80 percent) to where they
should live (60 percent) and for whom they should vote (49 percent).

Today, nearly nine out of 10 Americans (88 percent) say they find that
claims are more persuasive if they are supported by data than if they
are not. And yet, more than six out of 10 Americans (64 percent) are not
data literate – they do not understand how to access or interpret data
on their own.

Within the 36 percent of Americans who are data literate, there exists a
smaller subset – just 6 percent of Americans – who are not just literate
but data-savvy, and also active in their communities and their work and
turn to data to solve problems in new ways. That 6 percent, with access
to growing amounts of data through an increasing number of channels, is
forming a class of “data influencers.” These people’s data-driven
approach to decision-making has a cascading impact on the attitudes and
actions of those around them.

“This study reveals the emergence of a data divide in America,” said
Peter Zandan, Ph.D., executive director of the research and global
chairman of RDI. “People who are younger, wealthier and better educated
tend to have better access to and understanding of data. As the power of
data grows, so does the potential for these individuals to wield
incredible sway.”

Across the board, data is increasingly influential: whether we know how
to use it or not, we trust it to tell us what to do. Eighty-five percent
of the public says it’s important to point to numbers and statistics to
back up their major decisions. Ninety-one percent say they value data
that will make their lives more convenient.

“More often, data-literate consumers are looking to engage with
organizations whose communications are driven and backed by data,” said
David May, chief marketing officer at AIG. “As digital tools become more
and more entwined with everyday life, organizations will benefit from
strengthening how they think about and use data to communicate across

There is anxiety that accompanies the public’s enthusiasm about data,
however. While the public trusts data to help them make decisions, they
express concern about how it will affect their privacy and other aspects
of their lives:

  • 85 percent are concerned about how organizations are using their
    personal data
  • 81 percent are concerned that it may be used to manipulate them
  • 66 percent say they have come to accept they have little control over
    how their personal information is being used

For organizations, communicating with convincing data will help them
reach the data-savvy audiences that can either cry “foul” on issues like
data privacy, or serve as strong advocates for the products and services
they value.

“Already, data’s invisible influence is felt everywhere from
recommendation engines to social media news feeds. As organizations and
technologies better channel the power of data, individuals will be
increasingly influenced by data without explicit knowledge,” Zandan
said. “Moving confidently into a data-driven world of influence is
challenging, but the organizations and individuals who navigate it well
are likely to reap the benefits.”

This research
is based on an in-depth national survey, with more than 4,400 interviews
with the U.S. public in 2016. The full report can be accessed at

Learn more about the study authors and corporate partners at


Hill+Knowlton Strategies
Rebecca Ballard