the ACS questions. From those conversations, Tordella concluded that the data and the underlying estimates are certainly important but that even the advocates of the estimates have to concede that there is something ridiculous, something odd about asking people “when they left the house that morning or whether they have toilets.” He said that his own wife’s reactions—the morning of the workshop, previewing his comments—were telling. Asking her whether she knew about the question about toilets, she shrugged, and admitted that she did not understand why the Census Bureau would be asking about toilets. He followed up: “How about if somebody asked you what time you left the house this morning?” His wife’s immediate response was that the question “seemed kind of creepy,” and Tordella suggested that “there is no way that it will ever not seem creepy to some group of people.”

No one knows the real number of complaints lodged against the ACS, Tordella said—certainly not the congressional staff members he talked to about the ACS. The Census Bureau “has a little better idea,” keeping a record of correspondence that they receive, but even that misses the silent complaints—questionnaires not filed out of anger or aggravation. Still, he suggested that the correspondence suggests some of the flavor and the magnitude of complaints about the survey—even if 1 in 1,000 people complain, 1 out of 1,000 of the roughly 3 million households reached by the ACS each year, “that is still 3,000 complaints,” from which insight can be gleaned.

From his interactions with Census Bureau staff, Tordella said that he received information about some broad categories of reactions to the ACS. The most voluminous of the complaints are those objecting to the perception of intrusive and invasive questions. He quoted from some of these complaints:

  • “This is a lengthy questionnaire that asks very personal questions that are frankly no one’s business.”
  • “Why would you ask, or need to know, what time I leave for work each day, and how long it takes me to get to work? Nor do I understand what my monthly bills have to do with it?”
  • “I find this survey very invasive and really none of the Bureau’s business.”

A second broad category of complaints comes from people who did not return the mailed questionnaire, and so complain about the telephone and field visit follow-up steps. Again, Tordella recited some quotes from the correspondence to the Census Bureau:

  • “I spoke with a Census rep last month and since then I have been getting five to ten calls a day from random people claiming to be employees of Census.”
  • “I called the number for assistance [and] was horrified at the rude and insulting and harassing and threatening language used by the person supposedly there to provide assistance. Naturally, this made me more suspicious of the survey of its intended purpose.”


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