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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Saving the Census: Assessing Willingness to Participate in the Census


The decennial U.S. Census is intended to generate an accurate count of the population for use in allocating seats in the House of Representatives and distributing federal funds. However, individuals are less likely to complete the Census if they have privacy and confidentiality concerns. Previous research conducted on behalf of the U.S. government found that reassurances of confidentiality increased participation but not for items asking for sensitive information. In March 2018, the Trump administration announced its intention to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, raising concerns that the citizenship question might reduce participation among members of mixed-status households. In October and November 2018, while a legal challenge to the question was pending, we worked with three partner organizations within a faith-based non-profit community network to explore how best to encourage participation in the 2020 Census in hard-to-count populations in Southern California. Using a randomized field experiment with messages delivered using face-to-face canvassers, we find limited evidence that reassurances from the community organization about the confidentiality of information provided to the Census Bureau increased intent to participate in communities.

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