Federal Judge Blocks Census “Citizenship Question” – Good News for the Marketing Industry

January 24, 2019

By Bill Duggan

RussellCreative/Getty Images

With all the news coming out of Washington lately, an announcement from last week may have been missed by many in the marketing community. A federal judge blocked the Commerce Department from adding a question on American citizenship to the 2020 census: "Is this person a citizen of the United States?"

This is good news for the marketing industry and aligns with the ANA's position, originally published in June as well as a perspective co-written by the major advertising industry trade associations — 4A's, AAF, ANA, ARF — published in August.

The advertising industry is concerned that the addition of a citizenship question would depress response among both non-citizens and their families (even if family members are indeed citizens). That runs the risk of non-respondent bias by significantly undercounting immigrant, minority, and low-income populations. If immigrants and others avoid the national head-count, the census results will be flawed. This raises significant issues in the world of marketing, as flawed results would distort the representation of U.S. population estimates and the research benchmarked to it. Since the census is the foundation for population estimates that support the marketing industry, inaccurate census data would lead to misallocated marketing resources. It could have a particularly negative impact on media that serve multicultural communities, the companies which research them, and the agencies which help advertise to them. The value marketers see in those consumer segments would be understated and investments reduced.

As one ANA member stated, "I believe that undocumented people will not report their presence and therefore the census will be underreported, skewing data, messing up budgets, and providing inaccurate reporting."

We can now expect this ruling to be appealed and there is some chance that this case will make it all the way to the Supreme Court. But, at least for the time being, justice has been served.


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