In the past, decennial Census participation rates have often correlated strongly with state levels of civic participation. In fact in 2000, a study by Nance Bates and Sara Buckley found that civic participation was a better driver of census participation than state by state levels of Census advertising, asking participants to fill out the forms.
So in 2010 we can watch a competition with a stronger economic payoff for states than the NCAA March Madness tournament.
Census provides a tool to track rates of Census participation by state or even to drill down for your community. Nationwide, as of the end of March, 46% of households have returned their forms. This is far lower than the 67% nationwide mail participation rates when the dust finally settled in 2000.
For the moment, the southern states of Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana are participating at rates higher than I would have expected, although some of them are not doing great. (For example, New Orleans had only a 24% return rates Jackson, MS was at 31% and Birmingham, AL at 35%.) And rates of return in Laredo, TX and Brownsville are only around one-quarter.
As expected, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Wisconsin are leading the pack (although look to see Minnesota moving up the Census charts). [To see all the states' participation rates you have to click "View Participation Rates" and then close out the pop-up box.]
If I were constructing state brackets, my number 1 seeds would be: Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota with the Dakotas with the strong possibility to be spoilers. Let’s hope I get proven wrong and other states take the title from one of these six. Maybe with the Census short-form being shorter and easier to fill out than ever, participation will finally rise. Stay tuned.
BTW: April 1 is National Census Day (this is not an April Fool’s joke).