CMBP News Headlines
CMBP News Release

For Immediate Release: October 26, 1999


WASHINGTON - With only five months to go before the 2000 census begins, a nonpartisan, nationwide study conducted for the U.S. Census Monitoring Board has determined that only 42 percent of Americans are even aware that the decennial population count will be taken next year. However, the study also concluded that the Census Bureau's multimillion dollar ad campaign, scheduled to hit the airwaves next week, should raise awareness levels and, more importantly, effectively motivate Americans to participate in the census.

As part of its continuing oversight of census preparations, the Monitoring Board commissioned a series of focus groups and a national public opinion survey to measure public attitudes toward the census, and specifically to test the appeal of messages contained in the Census Bureau's ad campaign.

The $167 million ad campaign has been in development for months, and it will be publicly unveiled for the first time tomorrow.

"I am concerned that only 42% of Americans know the Census is coming," said Monitoring Board Co-Chair Gilbert F. Casellas. "But I am encouraged that the Census Bureau will soon be getting the message out and that they have gotten the message right."

The poll was conducted for the Monitoring Board's Presidential Members by Belden Russonello & Stewart (BRS), a Democratic firm, in collaboration with Research/Strategy/Management (R/S/M), a Republican firm.

Among respondents who need the most motivation to participate in the census, the survey found that the most effective message is one that emphasizes the census' role in determining how federal dollars are spent in local communities. Eight in 10 Americans find it persuasive that, "The Census count helps to determine how the federal government spends 180 billion dollars, and how much money each community gets for new schools and other educational programs, money for health care, emergency services, job training, roads, public transportation, and many other things." More than half of all respondents -- 52 % -- found this message a "very" compelling reason for participating in the census, and indeed this concept is central to the Bureau's advertising campaign, as developed by the Young & Rubicam agency in New York.

The national television, radio and print campaign begins next week and will dominate the U.S. media for the next several months.

"This exciting ad campaign has to be part of a broad-based strategy to remind Americans that a complete, fair and accurate census determines how we are represented and how billions in funds will flow to our communities," said Dr. Everett M. Ehrlich, former Undersecretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs and a Presidential Member of the Board. "The power of that message is expressed clearly and persuasively by the results of this study."

The survey also found that a majority of Americans feel anxiety over "confidentiality" in the Census. Nearly six in 10 Americans worry about answering personal questions in the census because they do not believe the government will keep their information confidential.

Yet, the "confidentiality" hurdle will also be addressed by Census advertising. "I'm glad the Bureau plans to take this issue head on," said Lorraine A. Green, a Member of the Board. "Americans need to be reassured that the Census Bureau is bound by law to keep their personal data absolutely confidential. This is vital to ensuring a complete count next year, and I share my colleagues' belief that the census ads are on target."

The poll included oversamples of African, Hispanic and Asian Americans to measure any differences across racial groups. It found that minorities and whites agree that the return of federal dollars to their communities is an important reason to answer their census questionnaires. However, there are also some message distinctions among racial and ethnic groups:

  • African and Asian Americans give dominance to a message about what the census means in practical terms for their communities;
  • Whites and Hispanics place community needs on a par with a general message about civic responsibility;
  • Assurances about confidentiality find more appeal among Hispanics and Asian Americans than other groups.

Contact: John Chambers, 301-457-9900



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U.S. Census Monitoring Board
Presidential Members
4700 Silver Hill Road
Suite 1250 – 3
Suitland, MD 20746
Phone: (301) 457-9900
Fax: (301) 457-9901