The head-scratching census poll

The numbers from a Pew Research survey about American attitudes toward the census are head-scratchers. And not just because nearly 1 in 5 say they’re not likely to take part.

Ninety percent of those surveyed say the census is very or somewhat important. But only 86 percent had ever heard of the census. African Americans are most likely to regard the census as important.

One out of three people don’t know the census is used for congressional representation, almost 40% don’t know it’s used to determine how many government funds get distributed, and 70 percent don’t know participation is required by law. So while most people know it’s important, most people don’t know why.

It’s a damning indictment of the nation’s social studies teachers.

Most of those surveyed who say they likely will not participate, say they don’t have time. It doesn’t appear that Pew asked any of the respondents how much time they think the survey will take.

The answer is: “However long it takes to answer 10 questions.”

Time yourself:

1. How many people live here?

2. Anybody else? Relatives? People staying here temporarily, perhaps?

3. Is the house owned free and clear, does have it a mortgage, or do you rent?

4. What’s your telephone number?

5. What’s your name? (and the names of other people living here?)

6. What gender are you and the people who live here?

7. What’s the date of birth of each person?

8. Are any of the people of Hispanic, Spanish, or Latino origin?

9. What is the race of each person?

10. Does anybody occasionally live somewhere else?

None of those, of course, is likely to stump anybody. And the Census Bureau — charitably — figures each person will spend a minute on each question.

Judging by the length of the Pew survey, those responding spent more time participating in that.

  • BJ

    I worked part time for the Census Bureau, getting people to fill out the form. Great way to get $10 an hour. If I had the time I would have applied this year.

    Most that didn’t fill it out had the long form, and that took a while to complete.

  • Bob Collins

    What percentage get the long form (I doubt people who’ve never heard of the census know there is a long form) and is that the ACS or a different survey?

  • Tyler

    The census should be mandatory. No census submission = no tax refund. It’s not that hard.

    Unless you’re Michele Bachmann, apparently.

  • Al

    \\It’s a damning indictment of the nation’s social studies teachers.

    Here’s a survey question for you: Do remember ever discussing the census or what it is used for in your HS social studies classes?

    I’ll start you off with my answer: No.

  • bsimon

    “Do remember ever discussing the census or what it is used for in your HS social studies classes?”

    I had an American History teacher who spent a week discussing the Constitution. I think the census was mentioned there, though I doubt we dicussed what it was used for – merely that Congress is obliged to take one.

    Is it wrong for me to hope that the 20% of people who will refuse to take the census all live in Rep Bachmann’s district? Delicious irony.

  • Bob Collins

    //Here’s a survey question for you: Do remember ever discussing the census or what it is used for in your HS social studies classes?

    Yes, but I was lucky enough — and I didn’t feel this way at the time — to have a teacher who made us go through the entire Constitution.

    I lie awake at night, I tell you, thinking about interstate commerce.