We’ve all heard the phrase ‘weight of popular opinion’ but how does this opinion gain its mass in the first place? Today, with the power of TV, radio and internet social networks, a new belief is a relatively easy seed to sow, but to propagate that belief so it grows to become a consensus seems an almost impossible task.
If a population contains 60million individuals, what percentage would you have to convince to tip the balance? If an idea were a tangible object that you could pick up and place on a set of scales, logic would suggest that they would only tip when you reach a figure of more than half the population. But it turns out that reality is a little stranger than that.
Scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York have found that, for a belief to conquer a population, you only need to convince ten per cent of the people. The researchers ran computer models that simulated the adoption of an idea and found that, as long as the number of people holding a minority opinion stays below ten per cent, it would take longer than the age of the universe for that group to become the majority. But, once the minority opinion passes that magical ten per cent take-up, it becomes an unstoppable train to consensus city.