Will Anti-Census Sentiment Hurt the GOP?

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In the wake of a string of government bailouts, the election of President Obama and the push for health care reform, a strain of anti-government sentiment has risen on the right that has energized opponents of the Obama administration and given Republicans hope they might take back Congress in November.

But that sentiment could also end up hurting the GOP in the long run if it results in a significant number of conservatives electing not to fill out their census forms.

The census is used to count the number of people in a particular area, and undercounts in conservative strongholds could result in fewer seats for the GOP in Congress, as well as in statehouses around the country.

In an effort to heat off a potential undercount on the right, former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove has agreed to appear in a Census Bureau public service announcement to convince people to send the form back by the end of April, the Washington Post reports. (Watch above.)

"If you've not yet mailed back your 2010 Census form, it's not too late," Rove says in the spot. "Please answer the 10 easy questions. They're almost the same ones that Madison helped write for the first census back in 1790."

Rove told the Post he agreed to appear "because the Census settles apportionment of Congress and the current distrust of Washington should not discourage people from being counted."

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Traditionally, undercounts have been more of a concern for the Democratic Party, which has complained of an undercount of minority populations. That has not changed -- there has been aggressive outreach to increase participation in minority communities, and National Council of Negro Women President Dorothy Height is, like Rove, appearing in a PSA to encourage people to send back their forms.

But the problem may now be affecting Republicans as well, in part because of the anti-government rhetoric coming from sitting GOP lawmakers.

In June, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a darling of the Tea Party movement, said she would not fully fill out her census forms because "the Constitution doesn't require any information beyond" the number of people in one's household. Bachmann also cited her concerns about ACORN's involvement in the census-taking process. (Republicans later urged Bachmann to change course; for what its worth, census participation in her district is above-average.)

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the Libertarian-leaning former GOP presidential candidate, has also complained about the ten-question census, which asks about race and age among other topics. Anything beyond a simple count of the number of Americans and where they live, he suggested, is beyond the scope of the Constitutional mandate.

Republicans are fretting about the impact, as North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry told the Wall Street Journal, of a failure by conservatives "to separate overall government intervention from a question as simple as the census."

As the Journal notes, Census Bureau figures show that the largely conservative states of Texas and Alabama have below-average participation rates thus far. On the flip side, also below average is New York, a liberal-leaning state with a large population of immigrants, another traditionally undercounted group.

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