A Surprise Reaction

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

Congratulations to the American public for a remarkable display of civic participation that exceeds the expectation of many about the mailback participation!

As a long-time survey researcher, I have studied the influences on survey participation and tried to understand why some people respond and others do not. Despite all this research, response rates in surveys have declined each year throughout the western world. I fully expected the census to achieve lower participation rates this decade than it did in 2000.

It basically didn’t happen. The exact comparison depends on which days you examine and whether you include both the long form and the short form results from 2000, but the evidence is pretty clear that we matched or exceeded what happened in 2000.

If you ask your friendly neighborhood survey researcher if they could achieve the same response rates in their surveys as they did ten years ago, I strongly suspect they would burst out laughing.

How was this success achieved?

It will take awhile to diagnose all the ingredients of the success, but our findings show that the local partners who got out the message to their neighbors, the paid media, and the PR campaign greatly increased awareness of the census from December 2009 to April 1, 2010. The data are also pretty clear that the replacement form was effective. The census tracts that received the replacement form clearly exceeded their performance in 2000. Although we don’t have data yet to prove this, I also suspect the short-form-only design was a winner.

The U.S. is a large, very diverse country. We know people who are angry and scared about their economic state and questioning whether government is helping make things better. Many report very low levels of trust in basic institutions. Despite all these negative signs in our society today, we have seemed to come together and responded at unanticipated levels.

This only marks the half way point for the 2010 Census. There is much hard work ahead to follow up on the approximately 48 million households that did not mail back a form, and risks remain. We need to continue to have the public’s cooperation to reach our final goal of a complete and accurate count of every person in the country.

Please submit any questions pertaining to this post to ask.census.gov

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20 Responses to A Surprise Reaction

  1. heres an idea – send the form certified mail to each address, spend a third of what you did on campaigning, offer the form to be filled out online with authentication, and you would have saved 50 million dollars, and have had less people not respond. It doesnt take a genius to figure this out, nor a director. Stop making comparisons to ten years ago also, it makes the effort look even more pathetic. Ten years preparation and you are still missing 50 million households? HAHAHAHAH
    Americans don’t have to *trust* the government or believe in it actually. Politicians who are IN the government dont even trust the government. They just need to believe in their *country* and… you should reinforce that.
    The problem is overpaid executives and directors who barely know anything about technology, hardly can even drive a car, and are losing their eyesight, yet it’s their decision that delivers a poor execution.
    There was no success for the people, just for the census. Who spends 150 million to NOT MAKE MONEY? Where did that money come from? Do you guys have in house people doing your campaign or did you hire a firm to do it? Cmon.
    When you come to my house, ill have an invoice ready for you.

  2. Kevin says:

    I’d say you owe it all to Social Media. Great job getting the word out via blogs, YouTube, Twitter & Facebook. Really well-done. Congratulations.

  3. Nicholas A. Dorazio says:

    As a White father of five children whose mother is Black I have a question. All of the information you provide on the question on race says that you are not interested in biological or genetic considerations. Instead, there’s no right or wrong answer; it’s however you self-identify. You use the phrase self-identify in all discussions of race.
    However, a minor child should not be asked to self-identify. You should never force a child to choose something that is so personal. I am not alone in this opinion. I have discussed it with many other parents of biracial children and we are always dumbfounded by well meaning friends, educators etc. who will clumsily bring up the topic of race and identification around our kids, asking them questions or even suggesting to them what they think they are.
    I have discussed this with your customer service representatives who tell me I should choose the race to put on the form. This is a very bad idea. I do not want go on the record choosing their race for them. When they ask me later “Dad, what did you put for me on the census?” how am I to answer that honestly without strongly influencing them on their self-identification choice?
    I would like to omit the answer on race for minor children. Can I be permitted to omit these answers on race for minor children for the sake of their current and future self-image?
    Nicholas A. Dorazio

  4. Nicholas, You are required to complete all questions on the 2010 Census questionnaire.

  5. Jeff says:

    You go boy!

  6. Jeff says:

    Well they have budget for it Kevin!

  7. DLS says:

    Do you really think how you responded on the census will affect your child’s self-identification? If so, you don’t have to tell them how you responded.
    I agree that children aren’t in a position yet to know how they self-identify. That takes some time. But we’re not talking about something that’s going to haunt them for years to come. And while their great-grandkids might be able to look it up, I’m pretty sure that your kids will have fully self-identified by then.

  8. Be realistic says:

    Since when does social media cost anything?
    Stop being so rude about it; the count is necessary whether you support how it is done or not. It is clearly too late to make changes this decade. Rather than griping about procedure, why don’t you compile a report of how to do it better next time around? And while you’re at it, start researching survey response rates. Quite frankly, that’s where decisions from this were based.
    It’s easy to talk a big game. Now back it up.

  9. DLS says:

    Research shows that offering a choice to do it online doesn’t help response rates–as Dr. Groves knows well. It would have been a big waste of money. It’s not that he doesn’t know technology; it’s that he’s smart enough to know that it doesn’t always solve problems.
    Success for the Census *is* success for the American people. If the Census is successful, then everyone’s represented in Congress (well, except for DC residents), and government spending can be better targeted.

  10. trevor schomer says:

    I filled out my suvey and sent it in on time. I just received a phone call from someone from the census staff asking follow up questions, ok i’m fine with that. if the person could have been able to speak english! tired of it! if the u.s. census can’t find someone that speaks english i am so done with it! goodbye!

  11. JJ says:

    I was contacted by a Census Bureau lady this past week. She introduced herself and said We didn’t receive your Census Bureau form. I informed her it was sent in the envelope provided and has not been returned.
    She asked me my name, age, address, etc., and who else lived at my address April 1, 2010. I gave her my information and then my husband’s basic information. Then she asked
    Is your house paid for and if not how much more do you owe on it? This is against our constitution to ask this private question and I told her that. I asked for her name and the phone number of her supervisor. She gave me a local phone number and also a federal phone number.
    I talked to a local Manager, named Nick and he could not tell me first of all why this personal information is collected by the American Community Survey. Also “Nick” does not have your phone number, but as you can see I do have your Internet Web Site.
    Please respond.
    Mrs. Jeane Jaime

  12. Mrs. Jeane Jaime, The questions on the American Community Survey are required to collect data needed to manage or evaluate government programs. These questions are essentially the same questions that have been asked as part of the decennial census. Rather than once a decade, the ACS is sent to a rolling sample of addresses every month, every year, throughout the nation. By 2010, the new survey will yield current annual data for all geographic areas of the country in the form of single- or multiyear estimates.
    In advance of providing the questions to be included on the next census or survey to Congress, the U.S. Census Bureau asked federal agencies to provide information on their data needs, so that only necessary data are collected, as opposed to data that could be acquired by other means. The Office of Management and Budget facilitates the process to validate current uses of census data, determine unnecessary subjects and questions, and identify new subjects for which questions are required. Section 141(f)(2) of the Census Act requires that not later than 2 years before the next census, the questions to be included on that census be submitted to Congress. In March 2007, the subjects to be included on the 2010 Census and the American Community Survey were submitted to Congress.
    For more information about the American Community Survey, please visit the Census Bureau Web page at http://www.census.gov/acs/www/

  13. Ms. Williams says:

    It is all bull. In my opinion it is all about how the government can get more money and whose pocket it goes in. She showd up and extracted the information my son not me. All that has to provided is how many in the household and the race. The other information is just for the government. I have spent hours on the phone with office in Chattanooga, TN trying to get this issue resolved and the manager Dan who was on duty said he did not know about any of the questions they asked “he knew how to pay people”. The team leader called me of District 2 Ann Zack and I informed her what happened and all that is required the number of people and race. She informed no. I have never gave any other information that. I have to go tomorrow to the office in Chattanooga, TN and attempt to get the form back and fill another out with just the number of people and race. I will never provide that information again. We do have the right to refuse. The lady that appeared at the house extracted the information from a kid and he had to come get me when she asked him for b-day and when I went out she had her badge turned where her name was not showing. If they ever appear on my property (and when it is time for them to come around again) I will make sure I have a Private Property NO tresspass sign up and that Census worker can leave or I will have the police remove her and take her to jail for tresspass if he/she does not leave when asked to. Personally the government controls to much public it is time the people take some of their rights back.

  14. L Branch says:

    Why all the focus and emphasis on race? Something like 80% of the form was devoted to dividing us by race. I thought our nation has entered a post-racial era, to quote Obama.
    Really, collecting this racial information only serves to divide us as a people and to empower race-baiting politicians during the next ten years of elections.
    Just my 2 cents…

  15. K White says:

    Micheal Opencorners said it all in his post. Totally agree with it.
    The government should step into this millenium and change its tactics. About 99% of people would rather get that census form by certified mail, and be able to fill it out online, if they don’t get it or lose it.
    This could be done, for less money than paying all these people to harass us in person.

  16. tmp says:

    I, too sent my survey back on time. I had someone at my door today looking for more information. Unlike you, I’m not okay with that. They got all the information they can legally ask for the first time. I want to know why they didn’t count my survey, and felt it necessary to waste my tax dollars sending someone to my home. This lady could also not speak understandable English. She kept asking “when you send?” Really?

  17. @tmp We are now in the final stages of data collection for the 2010 Census and are focusing on ensuring an accurate and complete count. We are charged with counting everyone, once, and only once, and in the right place. We check and double check to make sure we get it right.
    For more information on why your household may be contacted by the census, please read the Director’s Blog entry on “Quality Assurance and the 2010 Census” http://blogs.census.gov/2010census/2010/06/quality-assurance-and-the-2010-census.html

  18. Valerie LaHart says:

    And now that the Census is coming to an end, what about those of us that never had an opportunity to fill out a form and no one visited? Does that mean our community will be shortchanged because of your apathy?

  19. Robert Hall says:

    I don’t know why anyone would voluntarily give information to our government. I feel completely violated by these surveys. Since they are not voluntary it is no different than our government breaking into our house and taking what they want.
    This is what I would expect in communist countries and what I thought I was fighting against in our Military service!

  20. Liz says:

    I think the numbers are totally bogus anyway. I never even saw a census form, or a census taker. I asked my son if he got the form and filled it out without giving it to me, and he said he never saw it either. One thing I know for sure, I wasn’t counted on this census despite trying to find a way online to contact someone at the time (never could find a form or a contact). How can they tell anything if they just overlook entire households with no attempt to follow-up? For all I know, some census taker who got a temporary job sat down and filled out my form to save themseves some work. I know 10 years ago my household was counted as “Hispanic” and when a man came by to follow-up and caught me home, I told him there is not a “Hispanic” person in the whole household. This year, we weren’t counted at all. Does that tell you something about accuracy and numbers?

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