NPR reporter Hansi Lo Wang has broken an important story about the attempt by the Trump Administration to weaponize the 2020 census for political purposes. Via his Twitter feed and based upon the 1,320 pages of discovery released in the lawsuit led by the New York State Attorney General, he discloses the political pressure brought to bear on the Census Bureau to ask questions concerning citizenship. (I’ve posted a copy of the complaint here.)
Among the documents released is a memo dated January 19, 2018, to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from John M. Abowd, Chief Scientist and Associate Director for Research and Methodology of the Census Bureau. The memorandum was prepared in response to a request from the Department of Justice for the 2020 Census to contain block-level citizen voting-age population estimates for race and ethnicity categories. The memorandum considers three alternatives in response to the request: (A) no change in data collection, (B) adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, and (C) obtaining citizenship status from administrative records for the whole 2020 Census population.
Abowd’s memorandum recommends:
either Alternative A or C. Alternative C best meets DoJ’s stated uses, is comparatively far less costly than Alternative B, does not increase response burden, and does not harm the quality of the census count. Alternative A is not very costly and also does not harm the quality of the census count. Alternative B better addresses DoJ’s stated uses than Alternative A. However, Alternative B is very costly, harms the quality of the census count, and would use substantially less accurate citizenship status data than are available from administrative sources.
The memorandum reports the following shortcomings of Alternative B:
Citizenship status is misreported at a very high rate for noncitizens, citizenship status is missing at a high rate for citizens and noncitizens due to reduced self-response and increased item nonresponse, nonresponse followup costs increase by at least $27.5M, erroneous enumerations increase, whole-person census imputations increase.
Unfortunately, the smart money is still on Alternative B.
H/T to Vanita Gupta of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
UPDATE: The NYT has now reported on the story. However, the Times story does not contain any links to the source documents. Thus, even though it relates the position of the Census Scientific Advisory Committee, a Congressionally-mandated committee which advises the Census Bureau on all scientific matters, the story does not link to the actual e-mail in question. I do.
The Committee stated that:
We hold the strong opinion that including citizenship in the 2020 Census would be a serious mistake which would result in a substantial lowering of the response rate. Producing a high quality census with a very high response rate is in the interest of all Americans.
* * * * *
Adding a citizenship question to the main Census questionnaire is almost certain to jeopardize the cooperation of at least some community partners and lead to a lower response rate, hurting the reputation of the Census Bureau.
The Committee obviously has a sense of humor. Thus, following the last sentence above, the Committee adds:
We are certain you would not like to see these outcomes occur.