Conservative opponents of the Obama administration are urging supporters to resist the upcoming US census, saying it asks too many questions and reflects increasing government intrusion into private matters.
The census, held every 10 years since 1790, is becoming a focal point for the growing anti-government movement in the US.
The government will endeavour to count every person living in the US, regardless of legal, immigration or citizenship status. The count, which helps determine political representation and the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in government funds, is mandated by the constitution.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a virulently conservative, anti-Obama Republican from Minnesota, has urged supporters to give only the number of people living in their household, saying nothing more is required by the constitution.
“And I know for my family the only question that we will be answering is how many people are in our home,” she told a newspaper. “We won’t be answering any information beyond that, because the constitution doesn’t require any information beyond that.”
Glenn Beck, a Fox News presenter and one of the loudest voices on the American right, attacked the plan to include undocumented immigrants in the count, and said he too would only answer the question on how many people lived in his household.
“Government in the last couple years has not proven itself to accomplish anything, maintain data properly, get money to districts properly,” Eric Odom, a prominent organiser in the anti-government “tea party” movement, told the Guardian. “I don’t want them to have my private information and I don’t trust them to get anything right. If you want to know my name, my age, where I live, you can find that on my website, but to go any further is out of the realm of acceptability.”
Michael Johns, a former speechwriter for George Bush Sr, put conservative mistrust of the census down to fears the Obama administration would inappropriately politicise the operation.
“The tea party movement has legitimate concerns about the integrity of the process,” Johns said in an interview.
This year’s census will ask 10 questions, including name, age, sex, whether the respondent owns or rents a home, and questions about race and ethnicity. The census form does not ask about immigration status, and the information is confidential.
“This is a census that is being conducted in a period of unusual animosity and hostility toward the government,” said Kenneth Prewitt, professor of public affairs at Columbia University. “It’s not that people are mad at that census, but when you’re mad at the government you take it out on whatever is handy.”
The census bureau has raised eyebrows by again including “negro” as a racial category (it lists African-American and black as synonyms). Most black Americans deem the term “negro” to be more archaic than offensive. The bureau has used the term for decades and opted to include it again after more than 50,000 wrote it in longhand on the 2000 form though it was an official selection.
“Does it have a negative connotation? Is it offensive? No,” said Darrell Gaskins, associate professor of African-American studies at the University of Maryland. “But it brings up that feeling of the Jim Crow era,” he said, referring to the long period of official racial segregation in the southern states.
Participation in the census is required by law and is punishable by a fine of $100 to $5,000 (£60 to £3,000), although the law is rarely enforced.
Some Latino groups are urging undocumented immigrants to boycott the census.
The Rev Miguel Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, which represents Latino churches in the US, said undocumented immigrants benefited little from the government funds distributed according to the count and were not represented in the halls of power.
“It is immoral to ask undocumented immigrants to step out of the shadows, count themselves … then go back to the shadows,” he told the Guardian.
An estimated 12 million illegal immigrants live in the US, distributed throughout the country.
Other Latino political groups have denounced the proposed boycott as counterproductive to Latinos’ goal of greater political representation.
“If we don’t participate we’re not empowering ourselves,” said Lizette Jenness Olmos, of the League of United Latin American Citizens.