Just Released! Counting the City: Mayoral Views on the 2020 Census

Bipartisan Concern Among Mayors over Census Undercount

Latest Menino Survey of Mayors from Boston University Initiative on Cities, supported by Citi and The Rockefeller Foundation, also Addresses COVID-19, Policing & Protests, and Parks & Greenspace

As the 2020 Census concludes at the end of September, a large majority of the mayors of America’s major cities are extremely concerned that their cities’ populations will be undercounted. According to Boston University’s 2020 Menino Survey of Mayors – the only national representative survey of American mayors – 82% of local leaders are “very” or “somewhat concerned” about undercounting their cities’ populations; only 6% of mayors were “not concerned at all.” While there is a small partisan difference in level of concern (19% of Republican mayors are “not concerned at all” compared to 4% of Democratic mayors), nearly two-thirds of Republican mayors are somewhat or very concerned that their populations will be undercounted.

The Survey also asked mayors whether they worried that particular groups may be undercounted. Mayors were most concerned about undercounting Hispanic residents and non-citizens. Roughly, three-quarters of mayors were also worried about undercounting Black residents and people experiencing homelessness, and about half of mayors were concerned about undercounting Asian residents. Mayors were more likely to express greater concern about undercounts as the size of the group’s population within their city increased.

Overall, mayors were very engaged in their cities’ census efforts. In response to an open-ended question, 59% of mayors mentioned that their cities were engaging in different types of advertising, including billboards, local media, social media, and distributing fliers and other materials. 32% of mayors discussed forming “complete count” committees or task forces, either locally or regionally, to increase response rates, and highlighted the importance of including representatives from every neighborhood and community organization. 25% of mayors dedicated city staff to the census, 22% allocated funds or applied for grants to fund the effort, and 21% mentioned different events their cities had planned. Despite these efforts, mayors expressed severe concern over achieving a complete census count; about 25% of mayors talked about the impact of the pandemic on their cities’ census efforts, and concerns that it would exacerbate undercounting.

The survey, named after the late Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino and supported by Citi and The Rockefeller Foundation, is an annual project to understand the most pressing needs and policy priorities of America’s mayors from large and mid-size (over 75,000 residents) cities. In total, 130 mayors from 38 states were interviewed throughout the summer of 2020, providing a representative sample of mayors and cities nationally. Additional findings – related to COVID-19 recovery, policing and protests, and parks and greenspace – will be released as separate reports in the coming months.

The full brief on the census findings can be found here.