Minnesota Leads the Nation in Census Self-Response: Here’s How They Did It
The State of Minnesota leads the nation with a census self-response rate of 73%. That’s nine points above the national average. With the census completion deadline looming, state leadership teams across the country are turning to the top performers and asking the question: What can we be doing differently to get similar rates of response?
Why the 2020 Census is So Important
A complete count that includes vulnerable communities is essential for state and local governments to secure the representation and resources they rely on and deserve. Across the country, there are trillions of federal dollars at stake for schools, hospitals, roads, and public works programs that will be distributed based on population counts, which is why it is so critical for an accurate census count.
The Unique Challenge of COVID-19
There’s no doubt that local enumeration efforts have been complicated in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social-distancing requirements have made it more challenging to conduct in-person, door-to-door canvasing in neighborhoods seeing lower response rates.
According to a recent article published by Politico, advocacy groups are reporting that lower-income communities and communities of color are more likely to be undercounted in the 2020 Census if states don’t act quickly.
The State Leading the Way
Like many states, Minnesota began planning for the 2020 census many years ago, Andrew Virden, Director of Census Operations and Engagement for the State of Minnesota, told Politico.
“‘Minnesota’s been working on this for a very long time,’ said Virden. Groups in the state began planning for the 2020 census as early as 2015,” he said, adding, ‘There’s no substitute for time.’”
Central to the state’s census strategy was a series of strategic, outbound communications. Working directly with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, Virden and team were able to bring more than 150,000 email contacts into its Granicus govDelivery communications platform and initiate targeted, action-oriented communications to residents with links to the fill out the 2020 Census online.
Timeline of Success:
- March 31, 2020: Minnesota was tied for first place with Wisconsin in census response at 46.4% participation.
- April 1, 2020: The Minnesota agency sent 155,500 email messages via Granicus govDelivery urging residents to complete the census. This email send had an open rate of 41%. Minnesota also sent text messages to cellphones this day.
- April 6, 2020: Minnesota took a 2.5% lead over Wisconsin and has maintained the highest self-response rate of any state since.
- April 23, 2020: The agency sent another email message to 136,800 recipients via govDelivery. This send had an open rate of 32% and resulted in another 2,631 click-throughs.
- August 4, 2020: A third email send reached 134,000 recipients, with an open rate of 28% and 1,998 click-throughs.
Monitoring the Metrics, and Continuing to Improve
While the state knew that ongoing, consistent communications were critical for educating residents about the importance of the census, the team also monitored the various metrics available in govDelivery to better inform their strategy.
For example, of the 426,000 emails sent, roughly 14,000 households clicked on the message and went directly to the census website for more information. This click rate could help them identify those who had likely completed the census from their message and further refine communications directed at only those who hadn’t yet engaged with their messages.
“In a Game of Inches, Every Response Matters”
While these differences may seem small, representation and resources are competitive. Every member of an underrepresented community who is counted in the census means more vital resources are allocated for healthcare, education, and infrastructure in the community. Representation can also be decided by thin margins. In 2010, Minnesota held on to their eighth congressional seat by a just over 8,000 individuals. The state’s email campaign with Granicus has encouraged over 14,000 household click-throughs directly to online census forms. With an average of 2.47 people per household, the agency can attribute nearly 35,000 counted individuals to their email campaign.
“For Minnesota, the census work is a game of inches,” said Virden. “While margins may seem small, the margin for loss of a congressional seat is razor thin. We need every response we can to help fill the gap.”
Bringing it All Together
The census is one of the foundations of our democracy. Every community in this country should be determined, efficient, and creative in its pursuit of a complete and accurate count. At Granicus, we are incredibly proud to partner with Minnesota on its census work. We stand ready to help any state, city, or county in the same way.