Census Bureau director Robert Groves said Monday he is heartened by the high level of participation so far in the 2010 census, with no indications that large numbers of conservatives were only partially filling out the form or boycotting the government count.
"We can't find empirical support for that," Groves said, regarding evidence of lower participation among conservatives. He noted that perhaps 1 or 2 percent of the 10-question forms returned so far have been incomplete, which is what officials previously anticipated.
Groves' comments, which came at a news conference to urge Americans to mail back their census forms by Friday, seemed to tamp down anecdotal reports in recent weeks that anti-government sentiment might spur a mass boycott among conservatives who consider the census form to be overreaching.
Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Ron Paul, R-Texas, are among those who have been vocal in expressing their intent to refuse to provide information about anything except the number of people in their household, saying that providing anything more would be an invasion of privacy.
"Things are going quite well," Groves said.
Midwest leads in participation
With five days left for people to mail back census forms, about 65 percent, or more than 77 million households, have completed and mailed back their census forms. That number puts the U.S. on track to match or surpass the 2000 mail-back rate of 72 percent. The Midwest leads, while the southern and western U.S. and big cities such as New York, Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia are lagging.
Groves said most of the lagging areas are either rural or have dense populations, or have more minority and non-English speaking people. That was also the case in 2000.
He urged those in big cities and border regions to step up their response to avoid visits by census takers.
The Census Bureau is asking people to have their forms postmarked by Friday as it prepares to send more than 600,000 census takers to homes beginning May 1. Homes that have not yet received census forms can call 1-866-872-6868 between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. to submit information by phone or find out where to pick up a form at more than 40,000 help centers around the country.
The Census Bureau has estimated it would save $1.5 billion in follow-up visits if everyone who received a census form mailed it back. The population count, conducted every 10 years, is used to distribute U.S. House seats and more than $400 billion in federal aid.
The highest participation rates are in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska, where return rates range between 71-76 percent. North Carolina and South Carolina, which have participation of 67 percent and 66 percent, have topped their mail-back rate from 2000.
Alaska ranks at the bottom in participation, with 54 percent of households returning their forms. It's followed by New Mexico, Louisiana, West Virginia, New York, Hawaii, Mississippi and Oklahoma, each with rates of less than 60 percent.