Census to Advertise in Super Bowl: Your Tax Dollars at Work

How does the U.S. Census Bureau convince Americans to respond to their decennial surveys? Try tens of millions of dollars in paid advertising, including an ad in this Sunday's Super Bowl.

The bureau first turned to advertising for the 2000 Census. Ten years before, their response rate had been only 65 percent and the projection was: Do nothing and the response in 2000 might drop to about 60 percent. So they spent $106.4 million and achieved a response rate of 64 percent.

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This year, spending on advertising and marketing for the 2010 Census will total $340 million, which, in addition to paid advertising, will include public relations, Web site development and a road tour.

Ethnic groups will see some of the heaviest marketing from the Census Bureau because of concerns that the 2000 Census undercounted minorities and low-income Americans, which would have prevented federal funding from reaching these communities.

Of the projected media spend more than $82 million will be spent to reach ethnic consumers. That includes $24.5 million against the African American market, $28 million in Spanish language advertising, $18 million in Asian languages and another $12 million to reach other multicultural audiences from American Indians to Arabic speakers. There will be advertisements in local ethnic media in 28 languages.

Besides federal funding, Census results can have electoral implications as well. One of the most important things the Census is used for is to determine legislative districts. If the concentration of the population has changed significantly or shifted geographically, legislative districts could be redrawn radically changing the number of Democrats or Republicans elected to office.

Despite the push to bolster response rates through advertising, critics still have specific qualms about the 2010 Census.

Many Hispanics worry the Census will be somehow used to identify those who are in the country illegally. Even if that's not what the Census is used for, some argue, it is highly unlikely that the information won't find its way into future debates.

Black newspaper publishers believe they are being overlooked and after running census ads as Public Service Announcements (PSAs) in the past, now they argue, only a paltry percentage of the ethnic media spend is being directed towards their papers. The National Newspaper Publishers Association (representing Black newspaper publishers) has held press conferences demanding that the U.S. Census Bureau allocate more funding to their newspapers.

Census Won't Ask About Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions

The 2010 Census will not tackle LGBT issues. It will ask no questions about same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships, but for the first time will not alter responses to the question of relationship to head of household, which will give census takers a look at gays in partner relationships. LGBT critics say that not asking for accurate information keeps them from getting better political representation and federal funding.

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