April 24, 2018
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A Political ‘Census’

Earlier this year, some voters received an official looking form titled “2010 Congressional District Census.” The next line, in smaller type, said, “Commissioned by the Republican Party.”

The document asked recipients some personal questions — what were their political leanings, how they were likely to vote in this year’s elections and where they got their political news — as well as numbered questions including “Do you think the record trillion-dollar federal deficit the Democrats are creating with their out-of-control spending is going to have disastrous consequences for our nation?” and “Do you worry that the Obama administration is committed to greatly expanding the government’s role in our life?”

It said: “Deliver exclusively to” and “Census Document Registered to” the named voters. It included a “Census Tracking Code” with letters and numbers and said: “Please Respond by February 11, 2010.”

While the survey looked very officials and could have been mistaken for this year’s U.S. Census form, it actually was a Republican fundraiser combined with an opinion poll and a means of profiling individual voters.

ProPublica, an independent nonprofit online news operation, has been following the “faux census survey” story from the start. Its first piece on the subject brought 40 responses from all over the country. One told of an “Official Ask America Datascan Survey” sent out by the national Republican Senatorial Committee. One of its questions was: “Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi want to confiscate legal firearms from law-abiding American citizens. Do you oppose this liberal effort to restrict your Right to Bear Arms?”

Another reported that the FBI office in Kansas City had issued a public warning over a “Census of Senior Citizens” that had been mailed to voters there.

Individual voters resented the apparent deception. The Census Bureau complained that the mailings disrupted its decennial survey. And the American Association of Public Opinion Research objected that fake or misleading surveys contributed to a distrust of public opinion research.

In March, Congress stepped in. The House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill banning misleading fundraising surveys. The Senate passed it by unanimous consent, and President Obama signed it into law last month.

Responding to the uproar, the Republican National Committee sent out a slightly revised survey avoiding the word “census” on the envelope (it still was on the document inside) and calling itself a “2010 Obama Agenda Survey which is registered in your name and affixed with a tracking code to insure that it is accounted for in the tabulated results.”

The bill’s sponsor, Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., told ProPublico: “What is it with these guys? We pass a law in record time, with unanimous bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, but there goes the RNC again, right back to trying to make a buck on the Census!”

A revised bill is now working its way through Congress. It should not take two acts of Congress for the GOP to get the message that these types of mailings are deceptive and inappropriate.

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