The Constitution mandates that a census be taken every 10 years so that the members of the House of Representatives can be apportioned among the states according to their population.
But as the Census Bureau prepares to undertake the 2010 census, it is planning to stress a far different purpose for the population count, according to its own carefully crafted communications plan.
This plan is detailed in a 351-page Census Bureau document titled "2010 Census Integrated Communications Campaign Plan" that is posted on the bureau's Website.
On page 10 of this plan, the bureau states that the "unifying idea for all communications" about the 2010 census is: "Only you can make the census ours."
It says that this idea will be "expressed in the marketplace" through the phrase, "It's in our hands."
"This is the broad, overarching platform, unifying all messaging," the plan says of the phrase, "It's in our hands."
Now, these phrases may look to you like lyrics from a Barry Manilow song, but to the people running next year's constitutionally mandated count of all people in the United States, they are very serious words.
"Using census data as the basis, and overlaying that with advertising industry marketing consumption data, we can generate a picture of populations of people who require additional efforts to respond, and the media they consume," a Census Bureau spokesman told me. "2010 Census messaging was tested via surveys and numerous focus groups (see online research information). The unifying idea for messaging is the result of that extensive research and testing."
On page 29 of its plan, the Census Bureau explains "What 'Only You Can Make the Census Ours' Means" -- doing so in the imagined words of a U.S. resident being asked to participate in the census.
Participating in the census, it turns out, is all about "change" and "more funding."
"I have an opportunity to help make a difference for my community, my family and myself," says the imagined resident. "It's literally in my hands, in the form of the 2010 Census questionnaire. The Census is much more than a piece of paper. It's a tool that I can put to work to ignite positive change.
"My participation in the 2010 Census can be the tipping point that helps make change possible," says the Census Bureau's imagined U.S. resident. "And the more of us who fill out and mail back the Census, the more of us who want to tell a friend, to tell a friend, to tell a friend, the more funding we might get to help improve our lives and the lives of those who are important to us."