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CEO DATELINE -- Advertising trade groups oppose 2020 Census citizenship question

Aug. 9, 2018

By James Cullum

Four trade groups have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce against its plan to ask respondents their citizenship status in the 2020 Census. It will be the first time that the question has been asked since 1950, and the Association of National Advertisers, the Advertising Research Foundation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies [the 4As] and the American Advertising Federation said in a joint letter that the question will prompt some participants to not answer correctly, thereby resulting in an inaccurate Census and a negative impact on advertising media serving multicultural communities. 

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“We are concerned that the addition of a citizenship question would depress response among both non-citizens and their families (even if family members are indeed citizens),” reads the letter, which is signed by ANA CEO Bob Liodice, AFT CEO Scott McDonald, 4As CEO Marla Kaplowitz and AAF CEO James Edmund Datri. “That runs the risk of non-respondent bias by significantly undercounting immigrant, minority, and low-income populations. If immigrants and others avoid the national head-count, the census results will be flawed.”
Last December, the U.S. Justice Department asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to include the question in the 2020 Census. The Commerce Department, under which the U.S. Census Bureau operates, asked citizenship questions from 1820 until 1950, and, in a memo to staff Ross said that asking the question should not diminish accuracy and would help the DOJ in the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

“(N)either the Census Bureau nor the concerned stakeholders could document that the response rate
would in fact decline materially,” Ross wrote.

But a recent Brookings Institute study said that the question could result in 24.3 million respondents who will ignore the Census altogether and that states with large undocumented immigrant populations would suffer by not receiving federal aid based on accurate population data.

The public comment period on the question was open until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 7.

“The value marketers see in those consumer segments would be understated and investments reduced,” the four trade group representatives wrote. “Since the census is the foundation for population estimates that support the marketing industry, inaccurate census data would lead to misallocated marketing resources.”