Census Citizenship Question Won’t Perform Well, New Analysis Shows

September 7, 2018

Poor and uneven response rates expected, says new report released by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality

WASHINGTON (Sept. 7, 2018) – Inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census is likely to increase the costs and compromise census accuracy, according to a report released today by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality.

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross Jr.’s March 26 directive that the Census Bureau add a question on citizenship status to the 2020 Census questionnaire stirred up a storm of controversy. Much of the discussion was about the impact the decision would have on response rates in the 2020 Census.   

The new report, Citizenship Question Nonresponse: A Demographic Profile of People Who Do Not Answer the American Community Survey Citizenship Question, examines patterns of nonresponse to the citizenship question in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS). The citizenship status question planned for the 2020 Census is the same as the one currently asked in ACS.

“The evidence in this paper supports the idea that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census is a bad idea,” said report author William P. O’Hare.

Key Findings

  • The nonresponse rate to the question on citizenship is much higher than the nonresponse rates for other questions that are planned for the 2020 Census questionnaire.
  • Nonresponse rates to the citizenship question increased between 2010 and 2016 while nonresponse rates for other demographic items were stable.
  • Nonresponse rates to the citizenship questions are nearly four times as high in some states as in others.
  • Nonresponse rates to the citizenship question are higher for minorities (particularly Asians and Hispanics) than for Non-Hispanic whites.
  • Nonresponse rates are higher for self-response data collection modes (mail and internet) than for personal interviews. This is noteworthy because self-response modes are being pushed in the 2020 Census.

“The citizenship question should have been researched far more than it was before Secretary Wilbur Ross pushed for its inclusion. This analysis suggests that it will provide us data of virtually no usefulness, even as the question threatens the 2020 Census,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Co-Executive Director of the Economic Security and Opportunity Initiative at Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality.