Monday, February 08, 2010

The Census ad: Thinking marginally 

While watching the Super Bowl and tweeting like a fool, I commented on the Census ad, wondering how much this cost. The answer, according to the Hill, was $2.5 million; the total budget for advertising the Census is $340 million. The Census twittered itself (spread by many notably liberal sources)
If 1% of folks watching #SB44 change mind and mail back #2010Census form, taxpayers save $25 million in follow up costs
The way the Hill reports this is "one percent of the more than 100 million people expected to watch this year�s Super Bowl football game opt to mail back their Census forms," but we have forms by households. Last year 48 million households, out of about 118 million (304 million people at 2.59 people/HH, via Census), watched the Super Bowl. The response rate from households to the 2000 Census was about 67%. So if 48 million households watch the game, 32 million can be expected to respond anyway. To get a million (actually, 1.18 million) more households to respond out of the remaining 16 million -- off a single ad, shown in the third quarter when many have stopped watching or are well into the adult beverages -- is a bit much. It's this failure to think on the margin that makes me shake my head at the Census' response.
Of course they only need 100,000 additional responses from this ad to break even. But the question isn't break even -- it's whether that is the best use of $2.5 million? Would that be better than several ads placed elsewhere? We'll never know. All I know is I want to see a new Christopher Guest movie, soon.

By the way, does it really cost $25 to collect one more household of Census information? Back in my college days I worked one summer for R.L. Polk to get addresses and phone numbers for their directory, door to door. What are the arguments for not privatizing the Census?

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