Census responses shape decisions about how billions of dollars in federal funds flow into communities each year for the next 10 years for critical services. In West Virginia, 99.9% of households have responded to the 2020 Census. Although the Mountain State started with a low self-response rate of 56.1%, the overall response rate quickly increased to 99.9% with door-to-door response efforts. In fact, West Virginia even led the nation with the highest Census response rate in late September 2020.
Despite the Census’ importance, it is estimated that only 74% of West Virginians responded in 2010. In 2000, only 64% of West Virginians responded. So, how did West Virginia increase their response rate so drastically in 2020?
Consistent communication and educational efforts are paramount when trying to increase widespread participation in a public endeavor. Reaching out to the people of West Virginia to emphasize the importance and benefits of Census completion through grassroots efforts has led to a tangible response increase compared to the past two decades. Targeted communications reached West Virginians where they are, including outreach by newspaper, radio and television.
For West Virginians, reiterating that Census results inform planning and funding decisions for communities for critical public services proved to be a key messaging component. Health care, emergency and safety services, educational programs, infrastructure projects, business and economic development, housing and social services, and water and waste management are all impacted by Census responses.
When trying to garner the support and participation of a large audience through grassroots efforts, it is crucial to research and understand the audience. Once the audience is understood and defined, you must find an angle that motivates the people to take action, and, finally, define the best communication mediums to reach those people. It is imperative to consistently release targeted and helpful information, thereby encouraging readers to spread the word with engagement tactics. An informed and engaged audience is more likely to take action and educate others, as seen with the residents of West Virginia.