Still: more than 4 in 10 are still not sure, mistrust of government driving the lack of participation
a Census Project Survey
A new national survey of public attitudes about the 2020 U.S. Census shows Americans are growing more willing to stand up and be counted, confirming a positive trend from other surveys, although serious concerns about how the data will be used ‒ and if it will be secure ‒ confront the Census Bureau’s outreach campaign on the eve of major operations.
The online survey found that 58 percent of respondents said they “definitely will participate” in the 2020 Census. That means more than 4 in 10 are still not sure, which is comparable to this point in advance of recent decennial counts in 2000 and 2010.
The survey found deep levels of general mistrust of government driving the lack of participation among manythat is undermining census participation. For example, 49 percent agreed with the statement …
... The government will do whatever it wants regardless of the data.
This sentiment was over 50 percent among Hispanics, African Americans, Muslimsand the youngest age group. The findings show the toughest motivational challenge for the Census Bureau is with the youngest Americans. Among those age 18-24, only 29 percent said they will participate, and for those 25-35, it was 52 percent, well below the national average. Despite the cynicism, the 2020 Census had one of the highest reputation scores, with 78 percent of respondents expressing a favorable view, compared to only 50 percent favorable for the Federal Government.
The survey was conducted by Quadrant Research for Article 1, a non-profit coalition of Census expertswho conducted the audience research to help craft a national unifying civic message to promote a full, complete and accurate count in 2020.
The challenge for the 2020 Census is becoming clear: many people in the U.S. (more than 4 in 10 overall) aren’t yet fully committed to participating.
While this may not be abnormal in the lead-up to a decennial Census, there are significant headwinds to contend with in this particular climate ‒ most notably that the federal government is unpopular. There are significant doubts that the government actually uses the Census data to guide its actions. Furthermore, certain groups – Muslims, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Young Adults primarily – are especially concerned that the government will actively use their personal information for nefarious purposes.
This polling demonstrates a few key points necessary to overcome the skepticism, ensure broad participation, and get an accurate count – particularly among the most vulnerable groups:
The Census Bureau must maintain a perception of independence from politics and the rest of the federal government in the lead up to the Census.
To guard against any growing skepticism of the Bureau (given it is part of the federal government), outside groups like community and non-profit organizations can play a big role in convincing people to participate.
It is imperative to communicate about the community-level benefits of an accurate Census in order to make it clear that the government does in fact use the data to make important decisions. (The Bureau’s media campaign intends to do this.)
There is also clear value in supporting that message with a more emotional appeal –one that positions the Census as a source of empowerment for marginalized groups and truth about what America looks like.