Archive for January, 2019

Bad Faith and the US Census

Michael Stephens | January 18, 2019

A federal judge has ruled that the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the next (2020) decennial census is illegal. The administration has already begun the process of appealing the ruling.

One way to understand the broader context behind this proposed change is to see it as part of ongoing attempts to influence the outcome of the democratic process (efforts which include gerrymandering, voter registration purges, and so on). In this case, the addition of the citizenship question would lower response rates (that is, lead to an undercount of the population) in areas with higher proportions of immigrants — documented and undocumented. These lower response rates, in turn, could affect the apportionment of congressional seats — that is, reduce the number of seats representing those areas of the country (the undercount would also reduce the level of federal funding directed to such areas).

And as the one-pager below by Senior Scholar Joel Perlmann makes clear, the ostensible justification for this change — to obtain citizenship data in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act — is weak, when weighed against the aforementioned “side effects.”  As Perlmann points out, there are ways to obtain this data that do not undermine the integrity of the full census count. Unfortunately, the latter is most likely the entire point of this endeavor.


A Citizenship Question on the US Census: What’s New? (pdf)

by Joel Perlmann

By now most readers will know that the Trump administration and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in particular have been pressing for a “reinstatement” of a question on citizenship status to the US census that will be conducted in 2020 (Commerce oversees the Census Bureau). There has been a good deal of pushback. Opponents have cogently argued that asking the question today will encourage immigrants to fear that filling out the census form will endanger their residence in the United States. This reaction is easy to understand for the undocumented, but it also applies to immigrants who have arrived through the legal processes for immigration. Many in this latter group will be unsure of how the question will be used against them and decide that the safer course is to ignore the census. Reduced census counts for immigrants, in turn, will reduce both federal aid to local areas and (especially) the number of congressional seats allocated to states with larger immigrant populations. Alone, this reduced count may not mean too much. But like other shady mechanisms for skewing representation or pruning the numbers of eligible voters, every little bit has an impact.

Still, if the citizenship question was asked in the past, why not reinstate it now? The answer turns on historical insights: the characteristics of immigration and of the census itself have changed radically in the meantime. continue reading…