How to message the 2020 Census to our communities
Findings to help plan your Get out the Count activities
by Raima Roy
When engaging in Get Out the Count activities within AANHPI communities, it’s important to know your audience and gauge their awareness and outlook of the 2020 Census. With the assistance of Lake Research Partners, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC conducted research on AANHPI communities in Mandarin, Urdu, Hindi, Korean, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Hmong, Tagalog, and English to assess which subgroups could use more education on the census, which were the preferred methods of filling out the survey for the different groups, and what messages motivated communities to fill out the census.
Read on to learn about overarching findings that can your organization plan your GOTC activities. We’ll also take a look at the U.S. Census Bureau’s communication plan, including an outreach timeline, positive elements, and areas of concern to further inform GOTC planning.
Findings from Advancing Justice | AAJC Census Messaging Research
Are people in the AANHPI community aware of the census? According to the 1,600 AANHPIs who participated in our online survey, a majority (55 percent) of AANHPIs have not heard anything about the 2020 Census. Awareness of the upcoming 2020 Census is lowest among Japanese Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, while it is highest among Indian Americans and Korean Americans. Knowledge of the upcoming census is also highest among younger AANHPIs and first — and second-generation immigrants.
With the 2020 Census, people will have three options to fill out the form: in-person through a census taker visiting their home, online, or over the phone. If households fail to fill out the form after multiple attempts to follow-up, a census taker will come to their house to assist them in filling out the form.
According to the survey, AANHPIs reported that they are most likely to complete the census using the online option or submitting the form by mail. In contrast, very few see themselves using the door-to-door option or the call-in number. Vietnamese Americans are particularly inclined toward completing the census online and in-language, whereas Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Indian Americans, and Korean Americans prefer the paper form.
We tested numerous messages to gauge which groups are aware of the upcoming 2020 Census and what kind of messages resonate most strongly with AANHPI communities. In terms of knowledge on who is supposed to participate in the census, there wasn’t one message that stood out to all groups. Less than half of AANHPIS knew that everyone is supposed to fill out the form regardless of immigration status while 28 percent thought only citizens were required to fill out the census. In terms of messaging that motivated people to participate, the top three messages, “Fair share”, “Resources” and “Equality,” tested well among different groups, especially among Filipino Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Among the messages that will most likely motivate an individual to complete the census, “My community needs resources and government services” received the highest rating. The “Family” message represents one of the top two most successful messages across all communities, resonating most with Filipino Americans. Here are some of the top messages that resonated with AANHPIs regarding participating in the census.
Census Bureau Partnership & Communications Plan
The Census Bureau’s approach to Get Out the Count efforts is primarily driven by partnerships and communications. In considering how they reach people, it’s critical for us to examine how the Bureau chooses and cultivates partnerships, to understand its communications strategies, and to identify any existing gaps in outreach. It is also important to monitor the messages it uses, the channels of communication it’s exploring, and the individuals whom it plans to use as trusted messengers.
Positive Elements and Areas of Concern
The Census Bureau has hired sub-contractors who will focus on historically undercounted communities, such as African American, Latino, and AANHPI communities. It also has a strong focus on the creation of Complete Count Committees at the state and local level and designs built around real-time Census response rates.
Despite these promising developments, there has been a lack of explicit attention regarding certain undercounted groups, including very young children (ages 0–4), people experiencing homelessness, and immigrants. This means that focused communication efforts will not be targeted at these communities. The Bureau also has a very condensed timeline, similar to its timeline leading up to the 2010 Census. While the Census Bureau awarded the contract for their communications work earlier in the process as compared to the 2010 Census, due to funding shortages, their contractor was not able to get started on any of the communications until now.
Census Bureau Barriers, Attitudes and Motivators Study Timeline
Like Advancing Justice | AAJC and other civil rights organizations, The Census Bureau has conducted qualitative and quantitative research with people around the country to identify factors motivating them to fill out the census, barriers to filling it out the form, and more. A preliminary analysis of the Census Bureau Barriers, Attitudes, and Motivators Study (CBAMS) has been shared and the timeline for all their analysis is below:
Census Bureau Phases of Communication Plan
November — December 2019: Strategic Early Education Phase
-Communications will focus on public trust and explain the purpose and uses of the Census
-Only phase focused on historically undercounted communities
-Originally scheduled to last a full year, will now only be two months long
January — February 2020: Awareness Phase
Focus on building awareness of the Census among communities that are easier to reach
March — April 2020: Motivation Phase
Messaging will focus on how easy the Census is to complete, and will include messages about the possibility of enumerators coming to homes for Non-Response Follow Up
May — July 2020: Reminder Phase
Slight shift in messaging to emphasize that filling out the Census will reduce the possibility that an enumerator will come to a person’s home
Although the Bureau is engaging in some partnerships outreach and has begun to ramp up its Statistics in Schools program, the Strategic Early Education Phase — the phase focused on historically undercounted populations — seems to be significantly scaled back from the plan that was initially released.
Efficient messaging and outreach to our communities means a more successful census. When AANHPIs are more aware of how the census positively impacts their lives, such as more resources for their families, the less chance there is that our communities are undercounted. Now is the time for us and the Census Bureau to focus on our collective communications and outreach efforts to make sure people are motivated to participate and have the information about the process on how to participate so we can have an accurate count in 2020.
Watch and share our messaging webinar. Stay tuned for future monthly webinars.
Raima Roy is the program associate for census and civic engagement at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.