New NALEO Study Identifies Messages to Motivate Latino Participation in 2020 Census

Feb 10, 2020
4:34 PM

On Monday, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund published a new research study analyzing Latino perceptions of the 2020 Census. The study (below) “placed emphasis on general knowledge about the census, barriers to participation, and testing outreach messages that motivate participation,” a NALEO media release said.

The release also shared several findings about the research. Here is what the release said about those findings:

  • Most Latinos have mixed feelings about participation in the census.  While a vast majority of Latinos (77 percent) understand their community will benefit if more people participate, 75 percent of respondents also worry that the Trump Administration will use census information against Latinos, and 78 percent are worried the census website will be vulnerable to online interference.
  • Education on the basics is important to generate participation.  Latinos generally know the census is a population count, but there is significant misunderstanding and confusion about specific details.  There are widespread misconceptions around what will be asked, and what the census does with the information.
  • The census questionnaire itself creates a negative reaction.  In our focus groups, when presented with a test form that replicated the Census 2020 questionnaire, participants expressed concerns about revealing specific information about themselves or their household members.  In addition, nearly all shared the view that Latinos who are not citizens will not want to participate once they see the questions being asked.  Moreover, non-citizens see more personal risks in census participation.  Our survey revealed that 73 percent of non-citizens are concerned that immigration enforcement agencies will use their census information against them or their families.  Similarly, non-citizens are less comfortable reporting personal information about themselves and their families on the census form.
  • Younger Latinos will need extra encouragement to participate.  Among younger Latinos (under age 40), 54 percent are uncomfortable providing names of others in their household to the census, while only 40 percent of those over age 40 share the same concerns.  Almost half of younger Latinos (49 percent) believe the census is used to provide immigration and enforcement agencies with information to track and locate people, compared to only 29 percent of those over age 40.
  • There is confusion about how to answer the race question on the census form.  Many focus group participants left the item blank, while others marked a race category and left the origin detail section blank because they believed they already answered the question on the prior item that asked about Hispanic origin.
  • More information about how to complete the census is needed.  The research shows that traditional mail is the preferred method of response for Latinos overall, and specifically, non-citizens and Latinos over the age of 40.  Latinos under 40 prefer to complete the census online.  However, most 2019 focus group participants did not know how the on-line process worked.  Learning more about how the online process would work led some participants to think that using the mail response would be faster and easier.
  • Talking to friends and family about the census is effective.  Personal relationships are an especially trusted source among Latinos, as many participants said they verify what they read online with friends and family or would contact them with census questions.
  • Messages framed around standing up for the Latino community as well as  local funding priorities performed well in both the survey and focus groups.   In the survey, a message about the census providing an opportunity for Latinos to stand up, and say “we are here” and “we count” resonated with 88 percent of respondents.  Eighty-four percent of respondents found a message about census data being used for local funding priorities to be convincing.  Poster testing in the focus groups showed that responsiveness to the messages was strongly influenced by artwork and visuals.
  • Latino organizations like NALEO Educational Fund have an especially important role as trusted messengers of the census.  Across all demographic groups, Latino-focused organizations were the most influential messengers on the census: 80 percent said they would be more likely to participate if they were encouraged by a Latino or Hispanic community organization, with 43 percent emphasizing that participation was much more likely.  Because of sensitivities around immigration, Latinos are looking to these groups for reassurance that it is both safe and beneficial for the community to participate in the 2020 Census.

The NALEO released said that it worked with polling firm Latino Decisions to survey a nationally representative sample of the Latino population between October 8 and October 19, 2019.

The survey included “an oversample of the undocumented immigrant population and Latinos residing in the Great Lakes region,” the release noted.

After the initial survey was done, there were focus groups across the country. The focus groups “targeted those less likely to participate in the census such as younger adults, immigrants, and non-citizens,” the NALEO release explained.

“This multi-method approach allowed researchers to identify broad and sub-group trends across the diverse Latino population, examine how participants may engage with the actual questionnaire, and determine best messaging strategies,” NALEO said.