ASA Cautions Against Addition
of Citizenship Question in 2020 Census

“It is an established scientific standard that instrumentation in large-scale data collections should not be changed without adequate time to field test and evaluate the impact of the changes before the data collection takes place,” according to a public response by the American Statistical Association to a request for comment from the US Census Bureau on the proposed 2020 census.

In March 2018, a citizenship question was added to the census at the request of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. Given the sensitivity of the question—and evidence that survey respondents are showing increasing concern about the confidentiality of immigration questions—this addition to the census has the potential, according to the ASA response, “to compromise the validity and integrity of results,” and thereby undermine the purpose of the decennial census.

In response to comments by Ross that there is no proof the citizenship question will materially affect response rates, the ASA notes expert opinion from the survey research community—which includes government, industry, and academic scientists—disagrees and argues for the burden of proof to go the other way. Unless it can be shown that the impact of the question will be minimal, the ASA statement reads, “we continue to urge the citizenship question to not be included.”

In addition to the concern about undermining the 2020 Census, the ASA opposed the inclusion of the citizenship question “because of the lack of scientific justification.”

The statement echoes both a January letter from ASA President Lisa LaVange to Ross and a March board statement.