Fears That Citizenship Question Would Lower Response Rates Fizzle Out

One of the primary arguments made by those opposed to including a citizenship question on the 2020 census was that doing so would deter Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and other immigrants from participating. Preliminary results from the 2019 Census Test conducted this summer actually show it would have little impact on response rates.

“The major finding of the test was that there was no difference in self-response rates between forms with and forms without a citizenship question,” said Dr. Victoria A. Velkoff, the Bureau’s associate director of Demographic Programs, in an Oct. 31 blog post explaining the findings.

“Self-response rates from this test were similar to other mid-decade tests, including the 2018 Census Test conducted in Providence County, RI, which had a 52.3 percent self-response rate,” she continued.

For the households that received the questionnaire without the citizenship question, the response rate was 52 percent, while the response rate for those asked about citizenship, it was 51.5 percent, which falls within the standard statistical error range.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross’ March 2018 announcement that a question about citizenship status would again be included on the decennial census questionnaire was met with fearful rhetoric and lawsuits.

“This is a brazen attempt by the Trump administration to cheat on the census, to undermine the accuracy of the census and to attack states that have large immigrant populations — states, most of which just happen to be Democratic states,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) at an April 2018 press conference announcing the first lawsuit challenging the question’s inclusion.

New York’s Democratic Attorney General Letitia James predicted in April 2019 that “this question would incite widespread fear in immigrant communities and greatly impair the accuracy of the Census.”

After numerous lawsuits and lower court rulings, the Supreme Court heard arguments and issued a decision in June 2019 agreeing that the question itself is constitutional, but the pretext for adding it offered by Ross was not.

The Census Bureau moved ahead in June  with plans to ask almost 480,000 households in the U.S. to fill out test questionnaires  – some with and some without a question about citizenship.

The randomized test measured the impact of the inclusion of a citizenship question on self-response rates for the purposes of allowing the Census Bureau improve its plans for performing follow-ups with nonresponding households and public communications.

In July, President Trump announced he was abandoning efforts to get the question included by other regulatory means,

The report found no difference between forms with and without a citizenship question for internet and telephone self-response rates. With regard to those mail responses, the response rate for forms without the citizenship question were an insignificant 0.3 percent higher.

The results likely will not be enough to convince opponents. Responding to the results, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed suit against the Commerce Department, asserted that “There’s not enough information in today’s blog post to understand what precisely it means.”

Somehow, it is hard to believe there will ever be “enough information” to satisfy activist critics.

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