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 – 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.

Transformation of Influence_Stat graphic_Data Literacy and Influence

“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 audiences.”

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

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