Adding a citizenship question to the Census could negatively impact retailers, manufacturers, Nielsen argues

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Adding a citizenship question to Census could negatively impact retailers, manufactures, Nielsen argues
Food and beverage companies, along with other CPG manufacturers, could suffer “far-reaching negative consequences” if the Supreme Court fails to block the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 US Census, according to the consumer and market research provider Nielsen.

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will listen to oral arguments in the case Department of Commerce v New York, the heart of which deals with whether the Trump Administration should be allowed to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. So far, three lower courts have blocked the question, which many feel would discourage self-reporting, but which the administration wants to add as a way to protect the Voting Rights Act.

The court’s decision, which is due by June, will have a far reaching impact across industries and communities. And according to Nielsen, this impact would be bad for business, including the food and beverage industries.

“If a citizenship question is added to the 2020 census, the results will contained flawed data. Inaccuracies within the underlying census data could have negative implications for US retailers and manufacturers, impacting a number of key strategic business decisions around consumer spending forecasting, innovation planning, marketing projections and shelf assortment needs,”​ argues Jeanne Danubio, president of Nielsen Connect, US.

What is at stake

Nielsen explains in a friend-of-the-court brief​ it filed alongside nearly three dozen other amicus briefs, that, as recognized by the District Court, the addition of a citizenship question to the upcoming census “will reduce the quality and accuracy of census data,”​ because hundreds of thousands of people in the US likely will not self-respond, resulting in a huge portion of the population going uncounted.

Likely many of those who will go uncounted will be non-citizens or minority households, resulting in their preferences being under reported and undervalued.

“As a purveyor of measurement data, Nielsen understands better than most that if those households are not accurately measured, business may unwittingly underserve them by investing less in those consumers’ preferred products and services,”​ Nielsen writes in the brief. “Such mistaken business determinations will harm not only consumers in America, but the American companies that serve them.”

For support, Nielsen points to how its projections, which often are used as a foundation for day-to-day and longer-term strategic decisions, are based on decennial census and annual updates.

Thus, it argues in the brief, “the integrity of the data relied upon by Nielsen’s myriad clients – depend on a baseline assumption that census data is accurate and reliable.”

For example, it explains, “Nielsen-generated projections are used to determine the price paid for television and digital streaming advertising, the programming preferences of television and digital streaming audiences, the different mediums consumers use to consume content, what consumer products to stock, and where to site physical stores.”

In the brief it adds: “That data is indispensable to companies as they decide how to manage their product lines, allocate capital and adapt to the nation’s changing demographic landscapes.”

Concluding that this all boils down to a significant risk to businesses’ bottom line, Danubio added, “It is essential that businesses can continue to rely heavily on the census data as a foundation truth set.”

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