March 16, 2010

With Growing Awareness of Census, Most Ready to Fill Out Forms

Age and Education, Not Partisanship, Factors in Participation

Overview

As forms for the 2010 U.S. Census arrive in households across the nation this week, a new Pew Research Center survey finds nearly universal awareness of the census, with 94% of Americans saying they have heard of the census and 79% having heard something recently about it. Nearly nine-in-ten Americans (87%) now say they definitely or probably will fill out and return their forms, or have already done so. This represents a six-point increase in likely participation since January.

But the likelihood of participation remains much higher for some groups than for others. In particular, young people and those with lower levels of income and education remain significantly less likely than others to say they will take part. Slightly higher numbers of Republicans (90%) than Democrats and independents (85% each) say they intend to participate, but more Democrats than Republicans or independents think the census is very important for the country (76% among Democrats, 61% among Republicans and independents).

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press was conducted March 10-14 among 1,500 adults reached on cell phones and landlines. This is the second in a series of studies about the public’s knowledge of and attitudes toward the 2010 U.S. Census.

Most of those surveyed say they believe that their participation in the census will benefit their community; 62% say this, while about a third say filling out their form will either have no effect on (29%) or will harm (3%) their community. In contrast, fewer people see a personal benefit (33%) from filling out their census form, though that is up six percentage points since January. Very few think that participating in the census will personally harm them (5%); most (57%) say their participation will neither benefit nor harm them personally.

Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans or independents to believe that the census will benefit them and their communities. Among Democrats, 41% say the census will personally benefit them; this compares with 28% of Republicans and 29% of independents. Similarly, 68% of Democrats think the census will benefit their community, compared with 59% of Republicans and 60% of independents. Among demographic groups, women are more likely than men to see benefits both to themselves and to their communities, and more African Americans than whites or Hispanics perceive likely benefits from the census.

Republicans are less convinced than Democrats that filling out the forms helps their community. In addition, nearly one-in-five Republicans (18%) believe that the census results benefit the Democratic Party more than the Republican Party. By comparison, just 5% of Democrats say the census will benefit the GOP more than the Democratic Party.

Yet there are no signs that Republicans are more resistant to taking part in the count. Republicans are at least as likely as Democrats to say they definitely or probably will mail in their forms. And when other demographic characteristics are taken into account, there is no partisan difference in intention to participate.

Growing Share Will “Definitely” Complete Forms

A large majority of Americans say they will participate in the census – 70% say they definitely will participate or have already completed and mailed in their census form and 17% say they probably will participate. Far fewer say they might or might not participate (5%) or that they definitely or probably will not participate (7%).

Moreover, a quarter of those who express at least some uncertainty about their own participation in the census say that someone else in their household definitely or probably will participate. Including these in the total would mean that 90% say they themselves or someone else in their household definitely or probably will participate in the census.

The proportion of Americans who say they definitely will participate has increased 12 points since early January, from 58% to 70%, with the increase occurring among nearly all demographic groups. Still, young people remain far less likely than older Americans to say they definitely will take part in the census. Fewer than half (45%) of those younger than 30 say they definitely will participate, compared with 70% of those 30 to 49 and 84% of those 50 and older.

Since January, there has been a sharp rise in the proportion of women who say they will definitely participate in the census (from 60% to 76%). The increase among men has been more modest (from 56% to 65%).

In addition, while Hispanics lagged far behind white non-Hispanics and black non-Hispanics in their commitment to take part in the census, that gap has narrowed since January. Currently, 65% of Hispanics say they will definitely participate, up from 47% in January. That compares with 73% of whites (up from 61%) and 67% of blacks (up slightly from 57%).

Education and income continue to be related to likely participation. More than eight-in-ten (82%) college graduates say they definitely will send in their forms, compared with 61% of those who have not attended college. Similarly, 81% of people in households with incomes of $75,000 or more say they definitely will participate compared with 65% with incomes below $30,000.

The partisan gap in commitment to participate in the census, evident in January, has disappeared in the new survey. Currently, 74% of Republicans, 72% of Democrats and 67% of independents say they definitely will participate in the census. In January, 67% of Democrats and smaller majorities of Republicans and independents (54% each) said they would definitely take part in the census.

Views of the Process and the Census’ Impact

The survey gauged a wide range of attitudes and perceptions about the census and finds that the public holds generally favorable views about the decennial process. About two-thirds (66%) say that the census is very important for the United States, and another 23% say it’s somewhat important. Just 7% say it is not too important or not important at all. A majority of people in every demographic group say the census is very important for the country (see detailed table in the appendix).

An even larger majority of the public (79%) believes that participation in the census is a civic duty, and similar numbers do not expect that completing the forms will take too much time (83%). A smaller majority of 55% do not think that the census is costing the government too much money, while 30% say it is costing too much.

Most people say they think the Census Bureau will keep personal information confidential (61%), though somewhat fewer (45%) say the government is asking only the personal information it really needs. Just over a quarter (27%) say the government is asking for too much personal information, and a roughly equal share says they do not know whether the forms ask for too much personal information (28%).

Although there have been partisan controversies about the census in the past, most of public (73%) does not perceive the census as benefiting one political party more than the other. One-in-ten Americans (10%) say the census benefits the Democratic Party more, while 4% say it benefits the Republican Party more. Nearly one-fifth of Republicans (18%) think the census will help the Democratic Party more than the Republican Party, but only 5% of Democrats think it will disproportionately benefit the Republicans.

Republicans are also much more likely than Democrats to say that conducting the census will cost too much (37% vs. 23% of Democrats). And Republicans
are slightly less persuaded that personal information will be kept confidential (56% vs. 64% of both Democrats and independents).

Nearly equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats and independents expect that completing the census form will not take too much time, and about eight-in-ten among each group believes that participating in the census is a civic responsibility.

Most Americans (61%) know that the census is not used to determine whether someone is in this country legally; 21% erroneously believe that it is used for this purpose, while a similar number (19%) do not know. Hispanic respondents in the survey are not more likely than others to believe that the census is used to locate undocumented immigrants; 21% say that it is used for this, while 69% say it is not.

On another knowledge question, 54% correctly said that the census is used to decide how many representatives each state will have in Congress. This represents a decline of 10 points from the number able to answer this question in January.

Census and Civic Responsibility

Young people, who are far less likely than older Americans to say they will definitely participate in the census, also are less likely to say that participating in the census is a civic responsibility.

Nearly two-thirds (66%) of those younger than 30 say that participating in the census is a civic responsibility. That compares with 79% of those 30 to 49 and even higher percentages of older age groups. Blacks, Hispanics and less educated people also are somewhat less likely than other groups to see participation in the census as a civic responsibility.

Cite this publication: “With Growing Awareness of Census, Most Ready to Fill Out Forms.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (March 16, 2010) http://www.people-press.org/2010/03/16/with-growing-awareness-of-census-most-ready-to-fill-out-forms/, accessed on July 23, 2014.