Originally published by Politico
The citizenship question will not be listed on the 2020 census. But the Census Bureau is still paying for it.
Amid widespread fear among immigrants and activists over the Trump administration’s failed drive to put a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census, the Census Bureau is investing millions of dollars in an advertising campaign underlining the fact that participants’ information will not be shared with local or federal authorities.
The handful of citizenship-focused advertisements are part of a massive, $500 million ad campaign the Census Bureau plans to roll out over the next five months, including $50 million on content targeting Latinos, according to Culture ONE World, a Washington, D.C.-based advertising agency. The Census Bureau is also also spending $40 million on ads directed at African Americans and $20 million targeting Asian American census participation. The ads will run on TV and in print and digital media, as the bureau tries to drive up participation amid recent fears about the use of census data and concern that the census will undercount minority groups — which would impact everything from redistricting to federal grant spending for the next 10 years.
In one of these ads, a group of men who are celebrating a friend’s arrival to the U.S. discuss the census and whether or not it is safe to complete.
“I was like you ten years ago,” one of the men explains in Spanish. “I filled [the 2010 Census] out and look at me, I’m still here!”
Most of the ads geared toward the Latino community, focused on the safety of the 2020 census, will be in Spanish and will run in markets with high Latino populations. According to representatives from Culture ONE World, several TV ads emphasizing the census’ safety will run in markets that are sanctuary cities. In response to citizenship question concerns, they will emphasize that anyone — including members of blended families and newcomers to the United States — is eligible to participate.
But some advocates feel that the ad campaign is not doing enough, because it only mentions the confidentiality of census responses and not the fact that there will not be a citizenship question on the 2020 questionnaire.
“[Culture ONE World] knows that’s what they’re up against. But they’re not being allowed, in my opinion, to develop fully a messaging campaign that tackles [the citizenship question] head on,” said Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and member of the Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations. “And in the case of the citizenship question, for example, there is no Census Bureau paid advertisement element that I've seen that specifically says there is no question on citizenship on the 2020 census form.”
The Census Bureau maintains that its messaging is based on extensive research in these communities to determine the direction of its advertising. During a press conference in early January, representatives said that the research conducted ahead of the 2020 Census was the most extensive in its 230-year history.
More, emphasis on the confidentiality messaging are the result of findings from a report by the Census Bureau in early January that found that fears of a citizenship question could reduce response rates in areas with high Latino populations.
“The concern existed across everyone in our focus groups,” said Carlos Alcazar, co-founder of Culture ONE World. “It didn’t matter their country of origin or their immigration status. Everyone was concerned about how their information would be used.”
Michael Cook, chief of the Census Bureau’s Public Information Office, maintained that though the ads do not explicitly mention the citizenship question, the safety messaging in census ads will be enough to encourage vulnerable populations to participate.
“The 2020 Census ads were created in a research intensive process and are focused on making sure people know that taking the Census is important, easy, and safe,” Cook said in a statement to POLITICO. “The ads do not explicitly mention the citizenship question not being asked in part because they were developed prior to the resolution of the question’s status and because research led our creative agency to recommend using positive messaging about the community benefits of responding to the 2020 Census.”
More than 1,000 census ads are slated to run in the United States through July 2020 to encourage all households to participate. The first censuses were distributed to Alaska on Jan. 21. The census will be available in more than a dozen languages.
In 2020, the Census Bureau is aiming for 99 percent household representation. This year’s census will allow citizens to participate either online or via the mail for the first time.
Responses to the 2020 census also inform other aspects of life including congressional representation, public facilities and infrastructure plans. Representatives from the Census Bureau confirmed that all advertisements, regardless of their target audience, will include a disclaimer underscoring that participants’ information will not be shared with any other parties.