Trust in Government

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

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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.

Definitely.