“Since 2005, the American Community Survey has produced an annual overall survey response rate of around 97 percent,” says James Treat, chief of the American Community Survey Office. He compares filling out a survey to serving on a jury, paying taxes or getting a valid driver’s license.
The Census Bureau can do more than push patriotic buttons to persuade people. Under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, a person who willfully ignores the survey can be fined as much as $100. That fine could be as high as $500 if you lie — maybe claim to access the Internet through a “mobile broadband plan” because you don’t want to admit to having a “dial-up service.”
Treat says the Census Bureau has a thorough procedure to check for inconsistencies and inaccuracies and that people don’t need to worry about their private information being shared with immigration officials, cops, the IRS, employers or cable-service providers.
Given concerns today about survey fatigue, this response rate is astounding. It is a good thing since the data is used by all sorts of government agencies as well as researchers. Even though the ACS draws occasional attention from lawmakers who want to cut budgets, it also doesn’t rise the same kind of ire compared to the dicennial census and its massive undertaking.