Trust in Government

Americans Distrust Government Too Much to Answer Census Questions, So Let's Threaten 'Em, Says Official


United States Census

Among the problems the Census Bureau faces in getting Americans to answer questions, complained an official in a presentation last week, is that Americans consider nosy questions a threat to their privacy, especially when posed by a government they distrust. The solution? Favor the "stick" above "carrot" when mailing out questionnaires for the American Community Survey. Specifically, the official recommended emphasizing legal consequences for people who don't cough up desired data.

Tasha Boone, Assistant Division Chief for the American Community Survey, made her points on October 9 to the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations, one of several Census Advisory Committees. That "perceptions of 'irrelevant' and 'unnecessary' questions raise concerns about privacy" and that "distrust of government is pervasive" were among several hurdles she noted to gathering information from the public.

Jst a thought, but a bit of self-awareness might be lacking in the preference she expressed, among three mail designs for the American Community Survey, for the existing one that threatens in bold, capital letters, "YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW."

That should settle those privacy and trust issues.

But if Tasha Boone is unclear on the concept of unproductive approaches, she's correct that "distrust of government is pervasive."

When Gallup asks, "How much trust and confidence do you have in our federal government in Washington?" when it comes to handling domestic problems, 59 percent say "not very much" or "none at all"—an all-time high since the question was first asked in 1972. Fifty-five percent give the same answer with regard to international problems.

Likewise, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press finds near continous decline in public trust of government since the question was first asked—from 78 percent who trusted "the government in Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time" in 1958 to 19 percent last year.

Abuse of power

Why, to quote Tasha Boone, is it that "distrust of government is pervasive" in modern America? What took the shine off the governmental apple?

Well, when the Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey asked Americans earlier this year what they thought of their elected officials, respondents estimated that 70 percent of public officials abuse their power to help their friends and hurt their enemies.

So of course you'd want to surrender your personal and sensitive information to them. And threats of legal consequences will definitely allay concerns over abuse.


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  1. In 2000, I got the long form.

    I filled out name, address and phone number. The latter in case they wanted to arrest/fine me for not filling out the rest, I figured a courtesy call would be nice.

    A census worker stopped by to get the rest, I didnt open the door for him, when he started guessing my race, I slammed the door in his face.

    1. You’re on the list now, mister!

      Oh, who am I kidding, you were on the list the moment you first registered on this site.

    2. Just answer questions in long hand, refusing to check in any boxes or fill in any bubbles. Race? Homo sapiens sapiens (not Homo sapiens neaderthalensis). That sort of thing.

      1. “Homo sapiens sapiens (not Homo sapiens neaderthalensis).”

        That is for us, not you, right?

        1. Of course.

          Can I get a tax exemption for being an oppressed minority?

          1. How much Neanderthal blood do you need?

            Is it the one drop rule?

            1. But for Homo sapiens sapiens oppression and dilution of my people’s genetic heritage through rape, I’d have more of those drops.

              1. 40 acres and a Wooly Mammoth!

                1. Adjusted for inflation over 40,000 years, carry the one. . .you owe me alone the entire solar system. That includes the Oort cloud.

                  1. I got my parents the 23 and me test. My mom tested in the top 1 percent for Neanderthal DNA. No wonder I always want to spear the elephants when I go to the zoo.

              2. look man – don’t judge us ok. Rape is part of our culture and you just have to accept that when HSS is around, the rape train has no brakes.

                Toot toot!

                1. rape train

                  Is that Amtrak’s new sales pitch?

            2. You have to be 1/64th Neanderthal and a Democrat. Of course you won’t be tested, you just need to put that on the form.

              1. That would make you a Proglodyte.

    3. “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”


    4. Lucky you. I got the long form after filling out the short form in 2010. Several mailings then the harassment phone call began. I finally capitulated after the wife got mad at me. Still pisses me off. How long I take to commute has shit to do with enumerating the inhabitants of the United States? The only small comfort I have is that my off shift commute skews the time of “normal” commutes just a little.

      Then the USDA sends out it’s mandatory Survey of Agriculture…

      1. After not responding to the calls repeatedly, I finally took one. I asked under what authority did they ask questions beyond address and how many. After that non-answer, I decide the best thing to do was practice guitar. I set the phone down and played for 5 mins, then picked it up and said “yes”, assuming they had asked a question. Repeated and said “mixed race”, “cauliflower”, “Dont taze me bro” and whatever else came to mind. After 45 mins, they hung up and I never heard back from them.

      2. I’ll say this for the Census. It provides a lot of useful and important data in analyzing human, societal and infrastructure trends. I work in GIS and without Census data, a lot of work that local communities (governments, people, and private organizations) do would be negatively affected. So I don’t think it’s a good thing when people don’t trust the government enough to provide census data, because census data is useful to far more people than just the government.

        That said, they have good reason to not trust the federal government with this information any longer, particularly the current administration…because the President has clearly demonstrated that there is nothing we can trust him not to abuse if he sees a personal advantage in it for him.

      3. I finally capitulated after the wife got mad at me.

        Tell her to fill the goddamn form out.

      4. My wife filled out the last census form and mailed it off before I had a say in the matter. One of the few times she has actually managed to piss me off.

        1. Mine as well. I got the long form in 2010, filled out the name and number of people and mailed it back. Wife said I was “crazy” but let me have my way.

          Then one day a few months later when I happened to be away from the house, someone showed up at the front door and wife answered every goddamn question they asked. I was as mad at her that day as I have ever been.

      5. Mine go in the shredder. When the census peon leaves note son the door or comes a-knocking, I say I sent it in. When they say they didn’t get it and want me to fill it out again, I ask wouldn’t it be a felony to fill out two of them? When they say they know I didn’t fill it out, I ask how that can be since they claim confidentiality and anonymity.

        Although, one year, just for fun, I entered the number of people in the household and nothing else, and sent it in. But that was an aberration.

    5. You should have filled out every answer “I invoke my fifth ammendment right to remain silent”.

    6. I don’t remember what form I received for the 2010 Census.

      I simply stated one person lives at my address, and sent back the form.

      Sometime later, a Census worker showed up. I wasn’t home, so the worker started questioning my neighbors about me. I found out because one of my neighbors told me about the Census worker coming by.

      I didn’t really know that neighbor all that well (and vice-versa), so she couldn’t answer any of the Census worker’s questions.

      I don’t remember getting any harassing mail or phone calls, and I don’t think the Census worker came back.

    7. How could you slam the door in his face if you didn’t oepn it for him?

  2. Just trust us, ok? That’s an order!

  3. Favor the “stick” above “carrot” when mailing out questionnaires for the American Community Survey.

    Was there ever a carrot?

    1. Has anyone ever actually been arrested for not filling out the form?

      1. I believe a libertarian in Hawaii refused in 1970, was fined like $25, and it was paid by Society for Individual Liberty which campaigned against the census that year (and got front page coverage in Wall Street Journal.

        1. I doubt there’d be significant punishments…it would be impossible to deal out severe punishment to everyone who is hostile to the census, considering the scope of the group you’d be dealing with.

          It would make for a very interesting Supreme Court case, however, if they tried.

  4. It seems like they could solve this problem and lower costs by merging American Community Survey with Common Core Math. Ask citizens to solve simple math problems using Common Core math and explain their answers. Threaten them with fines or jail time for providing incorrect answers. Use the results as source data for any particular question they want answered.

  5. I wonder what compelling business does the “National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations” do. And I wonder WTF is an “other population”?

    1. I wonder what compelling business does the “National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations” do.

      Draw up plans for internment camps, I would guess.

      1. We prefer the term learning communities.

        1. “Happy Fun Camps!”

    2. Other populations would include non-ethnically based religious groups.

      1. Then why don’t they just say that? It does roll off the tongue.

  6. What’s the big deal? The government wants to know where all the Muslims are. The idea that this data could be misused is just teabagger hysterics.

  7. Likewise, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press finds near continous decline in public trust of government since the question was first asked?from 78 percent who trusted “the government in Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time” in 1958 to 19 percent last year.

    This is why we need more of it.

    1. The government just needs to spend a few trillion on educating the public about how to trust their government. That should fix it. They’re just not splainin the message good enough that the peasants can understand.

  8. Just saw this hilarious post on the Census Project blog explaining why the ACS should be mandatory. I can’t get my head around it. Click on “COPAFS Fact Sheet on the Importance of a Mandatory ACS”.

    1. Wah! Wah! The American people won’t be the guinea pigs in our statistics experiments.


    My *accurate and honest* response?

      1. The fine for lying to them is larger than the fine for not filling it out. Of course, how they would determine you were lying is a completely different question.

  10. You don’t need imagination to think the census will be used against the population, you just need to read a little bit of history.

    1. That history was written by old white men who owned slaves. So we have to dismiss it and right a new history from a social justice point of view.

  11. Wasn’t the last census in 2010 and their only mandated (in the constitution) every 10 years?

    If so, how can you response to a census in 2014 be ‘required by law’?

    1. Let me give you an idea of the stupidity (and possibly venality) of the US census)

      In 2010 I ran a large *transient* barracks facility for the Marine Corps out here in Yuma.

      Keep in mind that the Marines living in my facility were ‘transient’ meaning they were in the are temporarily for other duties before returning to their permanent duty stations – which could be anywhere in the world.

      Every couple of weeks the census people would come by and want me to distribute the forms to the people living in my buildings (and collect them, and make sure they were filed out – all that shit is easy when you can make someone else do it). None of them could seem to grasp that these people didn’t *live* here.

      They’d get pissed when I told them that a particular building was empty (which for most of the year my utilization hovers around 20% – these building are mainly for two major training exercises held each year, where they’re filled to capacity).

      I think the fethers were just looking to see how many people they could list as living in Yuma and weren’t concerned about double-accounting and were pissed when I would tell them I didn’t have anyone to fill out their forms.

      1. Group quarters can be a real pain in the ass if you’re trying to put a market research sample together.

      2. Thus singlehandedly dashing everyone’s hopes for “Yuma: A City Of Quality”

  12. We didn’t fill it out and the census takers keep government worker hours, not productive citizen hours. They were reduced to calling and leaving us voice mails asking us to be home. Sure thing, buddy.

  13. The 2000 Census missed me. I had moved to a new apartment building which apparently wasn’t on their list of addresses yet. They never sent us any questionnaires, and no one ever visited in person. Must have been 500 people living there.

  14. I received the long form a year or so ago. I threw it away.

    Then, I started getting letters, which became more threatening over time. After quite a few of these, a letter came stating that the matter would be turned over to federal prosecutors. It seemed serious enough that I decided to fill the thing out, even though the information was none of the Gov’ts damn business.

    I would guess that I held out longer than most. But, at the end of the day, I just couldn’t afford to have my life upended over it. Such is the threat of overbearing gov’t.

    1. Bummer, I threw mine in the round file and never heard a thing. I think next time I will actually take the time answer every question with the response FUCK OFF SLAVERS.

    2. Tell them you did fill it out. If they demand you fill out a second one, ask if that wouldn’t be a felony. If they insist they know you didn’t fill it out, ask how that can be if it is confidential and anonymous. I’ve been doing that for decades.

    3. I got one about a year and a half ago. The first one was sent to ‘resident’ at my address. A few weeks later after not getting a response from me they sent me another one with ‘resident’ replaced with my name. I filled it out with the response on every page saying “none of your business” and sent it in. That was followed with a carrot-stick letter with another copy of the survey which went into the recycle bin. They next sent a census worker who I happen to know, nice lady. We chatted about our now grown up kids for a few minutes and I told her I couldn’t answer any of the questions. I then received a series of form letters and calls from the census worker requesting I call back, which I never did. The last thing they tried was a call from the district office. When the caller identified himself as calling from the census bureau I said goodbye and hung up the phone. That was the last I heard from them. The most they can do is fine you $100 which from what I can determine has never happened. I don’t think they want the constitutionality to ever be challenged in court.

  15. While all the extra questions may prove valuable to future genealogists after the census is made public in 70 years, the Constitution only requires enumeration. The 1790 census is just that if you take a look at it. That many are missed is historically correct, as anyone checking their ancestry may discover as one’s great grandfather may be listed in 1860 and 1880, but not in 1870.

    1. The constitution requires more than enumeration – at the very least it requires that race and slave status be recorded.

      1. at the very least it requires that race and slave status be recorded

        The 13th Amendment could be taken to construe that slave status is a defunct categorization.

        What part of the Constitution requires race to be reported, apart from perhaps “Indians not taxed”?

  16. I just about lost it at my ex-husband when he caved in to a little, old, blue-haired lady who came to our house to take the census. (We’d failed to return the form because FTTW.)

    To be fair, he tried to get out of it. “This isn’t really a good time,” he says on Sunday morning, answering the door in his bathroom. “I’m sorry, sir, but your participation is mandated by law.” So he starts answering questions.

    I overheard her start asking questions about me: what time did I go to work, when did I return home, what exactly did I do, where did I work, etc. I opened the door and pulled him back inside onto the porch, and then I went out myself to finish her “census.” I flat told her that none of it was any of her or the government’s business, she already had the information she needed, and that we were done entertaining visitors for today.

    Then I slammed the door in her face.

    1. “I’m sorry, sir, but your participation is mandated by law.”

      So what is the penalty for refusing to comply?

      1. Google knows all and sees all!

        13 U.S. Code ? 221 – Refusal or neglect to answer questions; false answers

        Current through Pub. L. 113-296, except 113-287, 113-291, 113-295. (See Public Laws for the current Congress.)

        (a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age, refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.

        (b) Whoever, when answering questions described in subsection (a) of this section, and under the conditions or circumstances described in such subsection, willfully gives any answer that is false, shall be fined not more than $500.

        (c) Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no person shall be compelled to disclose information relative to his religious beliefs or to membership in a religious body.

  17. In 2010 they just ended up going to my neighbor’s houses when I refused and asked them all of the questions about me and my family. They probably just made up whatever they couldn’t figure out. I did enjoy “educating” the folks that came to the house though.

  18. Wow, you all really got the hard sell. A census worker showed up at my door in 2010 with a long form and a bunch of questions. After verifying how many people live at my house, I just told her that I declined to answer any of the other questions. She said ok and walked away. And nothing else happened.

  19. WAIT A MINUTE!! Only 70%? GEEEZ!

  20. “Census workers” are paid like $10/hr. Like anyone working a $10 an hour job, none of them really give a shit and probably made shit up just so they didn’t have to get shotguns shoved in their face for being nosy dickwads anymore.

  21. Last cycle I had a census worker knock on my front door to ask about how many people lived next door to us. I told him we didn’t know how many were in there, but they sure do pray a lot.

  22. If you research ancestry you most likely will look at census reports as I have done, beginning with the first ones in 1790, 1800, 1810, etc. . I use these as my guide on what questions to answer as I feel they were closest to the founding and best understood what the Constitution required. You will be surprised/shocked at some of the questions asked!

  23. Why don’t they just have the FBI, NSA, and IRS collect that data?
    (Or turn it over, since they already are.)

    The last census cost $13 billion.

    1. Why don’t they just have the FBI, NSA, and IRS collect that data?

      Collect it again? Much better to spread more dough to other government minions.

      “The last census cost $13 billion.”

  24. I just told the lady that Allah would not allow such intrusiveness.
    She said nothing and left quickly.

  25. “on average americans think seventy percent of their elected officials use their political power to hurt their enemies and help their friends”

    I’d like to see them ask whether they *approve*. Seems like a lot do.

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