U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Skip Header

For Immediate Release: Thursday, January 24, 2019

New Study Examines Barriers, Attitudes and Motivators Toward Participating in the Upcoming 2020 Census

Press Release Number CB19-CN.01

JAN. 24, 2019 — The U.S. Census Bureau released results today from the 2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes and Motivators Study (CBAMS). The national survey and series of focus groups were designed to better understand the nation’s attitudes toward the 2020 Census, potential barriers that may inhibit participation, and possible motivators of responding. The CBAMS research is the foundation for building an Integrated Partnership and Communications campaign for the 2020 Census.

“Every part of the 2020 Census is grounded in research,” Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said. “An accurate and complete census relies on U.S. households responding to the 2020 Census online, by phone or by mail, and the communications campaign is key to achieving that.”

This extensive research expands similar work done ahead of the last census and shows how to reach all populations, including segments of the population that are historically hard to count, and which types of messages may be most effective. That work is then reinforced by the testing of the advertising creative to be used throughout the campaign.

Today’s release includes two reports: 2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes, and Motivators Study (CBAMS) Final Survey Report” and 2020 Census Barriers, Attitudes, and Motivators Study (CBAMS) Final Focus Group Report.”

Final Survey Report

The 2020 CBAMS survey reached a nationally representative sample of 50,000 households in early 2018, with nearly 17,500 responses (about a 35.0 percent response rate) to determine who intends to respond to the census and what attitudes, barriers and motivators exist about the 2020 Census. This is considered a well above average sample size and response rate than the industry standard for communications campaign research.


  • Two-thirds of respondents are “extremely likely” or “very likely” to fill out a census form.
  • Many people were unfamiliar with the census, with only 33 percent being “extremely” or “very” familiar. Knowledge about the purpose and process of the census was uneven across groups.
  • The analysis revealed five barriers that might prevent people from participating in the census: concerns about data privacy and confidentiality, fear of repercussions, distrust in all levels of government, feeling that it doesn’t matter if you are counted, and belief that completing the census might not benefit you personally.
  • Funding for public services was a top motivator across groups, yet less than half of respondents knew that the census is used to determine community funding.

Final Focus Group Report

Forty-two focus groups, held across 14 cities, explored potential motivators and barriers to response as well as attitudes toward the census. The focus groups were conducted among all characteristics of hard-to-count populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, people who speak languages other than English, those with low internet proficiency, young people who move frequently or have plans to move soon, rural residents, and populations at risk of low response. In addition, the Census Bureau was able to make some observations about the inclusion of a citizenship question on the census form to 34 of the 42 focus groups because the question announcement happened while the research was being fielded.


  • Tying participation in the census to community funding and, by extension, the hope for a better future for younger generations was a key motivator.
  • Helping people understand the purpose, content and process of the census may increase their participation in the 2020 Census.
  • Messaging is needed for how the census directly benefits local communities, now and in the future. 
  • Providing information about the Census Bureau’s data protection policies will not alone mitigate concerns around privacy and confidentiality.
  • Encouraging response from trusted voices within the community may increase participation among people with the greatest distrust in government.

In the coming months, the Census Bureau will announce various communications activities for the 2020 Census using the CBAMS research as a key component across the campaign.



Virginia Hyer
Public Information Office

Page Last Revised - October 8, 2021
Is this page helpful?
Thumbs Up Image Yes Thumbs Down Image No
255 characters maximum 255 characters maximum reached
Thank you for your feedback.
Comments or suggestions?


Back to Header