The census freakout

  • 6 April 2018
  • NormanL
The census freakout

Democrats are in a lather over the Census Bureau's decision to include a question on the 2020 form about citizenship.  The rhetorical anger has transformed into a legal challenge, because that's what ambitious state attorneys general tend to do:

Eighteen states and six cities are suing to prevent the Trump administration from including a citizenship question on the 2020 Census.

The states, all led by Democratic attorneys general, and cities argued that seeking citizenship information in the upcoming Census would depress participation, especially among states with large immigrant populations.

An undercount would then hurt states’ representation in Congress and the Electoral College, and threaten billions of dollars in federal funds allocated to states for programs like Medicaid, attorneys general for the 18 states said in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

All these worries and concerns, some more cynical than others, are hogwash. As National Review writes, asking a citizenship question on the census is "entirely reasonable," not to mention it was once standard practice:

Before 1960, the decennial census asked respondents if they were citizens. Afterwards, the question was included on the long-form questionnaire (issued as a supplement to the decennial survey to one in six households). In 2010, the American Community Survey replaced the long-form questionnaire, and it, too, asks the citizenship question.

Some have attacked the decision on quasi-constitutional grounds. The census is principally for determining the apportionment of House representatives, and federal law requires the census to count citizens and non-citizens alike for that purpose. But it does not follow that the census must preserve public ignorance about the number of citizens. The two are not mutually exclusive, and this decision does not change the way representatives are apportioned.

Okay. But what about the federal money that flows from census data?

In addition to determining apportionment, the census affects the distribution of federal dollars and is used to enforce voting-rights laws, so it is reasonable to want its data to be as accurate as possible. But no evidence supports the claim that including the citizenship question on the census will have a significant effect on either its response rate or the reliability of its data.

The more deranged corners of the Left, meanwhile, have declared that the president wants to root out unauthorized immigrants and deliberately engineer an undercount to ensure that Republicans remain in control of the government. Of course, a citizenship question is just that: Respondents will not be asked about their legal status. And in the event that the census actually undercounts the population in immigrant-heavy regions, red states such as Arizona and Texas would lose House seats and electoral votes.

So the fire and brimstone arguments against the citizenship question are actually all about politics -- specifically, it's another tool to motivate the Democratic base to turn out to vote in November.