WASHINGTON (AP) â€” The Census Bureau's first paid advertising campaign contributed heavily to achieving a successful response this year in the face of concerns about the intrusiveness of questions, a poll released Thursday said.
The poll conducted by InterSurvey, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based firm, found that public awareness of the once-a-decade count increased markedly during the height of the Census Bureau's $168 million advertising campaign, from 66 percent on March 9 to 88 percent on April 13.
InterSurvey got help from the Census Bureau in compiling information for the poll, which was commissioned by seven nonprofit foundations, said Jean Durall, InterSurvey's director of marketing.
``There certainly were concerns about privacy which were higher among people who received the long form,'' Durall said. ``But it appears from the research that higher exposure to Census 2000 communication efforts contributed to people (being) more willing to return their surveys, even among those who had concerns.''
As of Thursday, 66 percent of the 120 million forms mailed out had been returned. Bureau officials are ecstatic with the figure, saying it reverses a decline in census response over the last 30 years, from 78 percent in 1970, to 75 percent in 1980 to 65 percent in 1990.
On April 18, the Census Bureau reported that 65 percent of forms had been returned. Households that mailed questionnaires back since then will still be visited by a census-taker since they arrived so late, Census spokesman Steve Jost said.
``We're getting a little higher number of forms than we anticipated,'' Jost said. ``Many of them are long forms, and foreign language forms.''
However, Census officials are still unsure exactly how many of the forms returned were completely filled out. In late March, several Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, questioned the intrusiveness of the 53-question long form.
Some congressional Republicans said they suggested to constituents concerned about privacy to leave intrusive questions unanswered. The Census Bureau says they need all questions answered to get the most accurate snapshot of the population.
The InterSurvey poll showed that the percentage of Americans who listed privacy as a concern doubled between March 3 and April 13, from 10 percent to 20 percent. Of respondents that received the long form, 53 percent said questions about income were ``too personal.''
``We must study this entire privacy issue and its implications on the future of the census,'' said Chip Walker, spokesman for Rep. Dan Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's census panel.
``Those that dismiss these concerns as being purely political in nature are putting their partisan goals ahead of what's best for America and the census,'' Walker said.
The subcommittee's ranking member, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., disagreed.
``We now have proof that the statements by Senator Lott and Governor Bush in fact hurt the census and cost American taxpayers millions, because we now have to send out enumerators to the homes that did not reply,'' Maloney said.
Currently, the Census Bureau is in the midst of a 10-week operation ending July 7 to track down those households.
The ad campaign, highlighted by a commercial during this year's Super Bowl and increased outreach to minority groups, appeared to generate better response from blacks and Hispanics, the poll said. Thirty-three percent of Hispanics, and 31 percent of blacks said they had a ``high level'' of exposure to Census 2000 advertising, compared to 16 percent of whites.
InterSurvey recruited respondents using a random digit dialing sampling method. About 1,000 people were polled via the Internet each week between March 3 and April 13, with an error margin of 3 percentage points.
A separate poll of 1,933 Americans was conducted the first week of April specifically to measure reaction to the long-form controversy. That poll had an error margin of 2 percentage points.