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Making Sense of the Census: It's Political

  • Thomas L. Brunell (a1)


With “Partisan Politics at Work,” Anderson and Fienberg continue their spirited, if misleading, defense of the plan to statistically adjust the census count. Unfortunately, their argument in favor of making the adjustments misses the mark and they gloss over some of the most serious of the evidence presented against the methods of adjustment. Rather, they are more interested in trying to remove politics from an inherently political process, which I maintain is an unrealistic goal. I conclude my portion of this exchange by reiterating my position that statistically adjusting the census totals will, at best, provide numbers that are no better than those of a traditional headcount; at worst, doing so may provide very inaccurate data.

At the end of their second article, Anderson and Fienberg plead for “legislation to insulate the Census Bureau from efforts at political manipulation and restore to it the authority to manage the technical details of how to fulfill the constitutional mandate for a census.” I do not share these wishes. Why does the federal bureaucracy need any more protection from congressional oversight than it already enjoys? Certainly, Census Bureau officials have more technical expertise and they are more readily able to judge whether a particular sampling plan is sound than are the collective members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Nevertheless, the Bureau remains the fiduciary for Congress. Erecting barriers between the two groups is not a solution to any identifiable problem.



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Anderson, Margo, and Fienberg, Stephen. 2000. “Partisan Politics at Work: Sampling and the 2000 Census.” PS: Political Science and Politics 33(4).
Breiman, Leo. 1994. “The 1991 Census Adjustment: Undercount or Bad Data?Statistical Science 9:458537.
Brown, Lawrence D., Eaton, Morris L., Freedman, David A., Klein, Stephen P., Olshen, Richard A., Wachter, Kenneth W., Wells, Martin T., and Ylvisaker, Donald. 1999. “Statistical Controversies in Census 2000.” Jurimetrics 39(Summer): 347–75.
Forrero, Juan. 2000. “Census Workers Say Supervisors Encouraged Filing of False Data.” The New York Times, July 28, 2000, B1.
Skerry, Peter. 2000. Counting on the Census? Race, Group Identity, and the Evasion of Politics. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Stark, P.B. 1999. “Differences Between the 1990 and 2000 Census Adjustment Plans, and Their Impact on Error.” Technical Report 550. Berkeley: Department of Statistics, University of California.
U. S. Department of Commerce. Office of the Secretary. 1991. “Decision on Whether or Not a Statistical Adjustment of the 1990 Decennial Census of Population Should Be Made for Coverage Deficiencies Resulting in an Overcount or Undercount of the Population; Explanation.” Federal Register 56: 33582–642.
Wachter, Kenneth W., and Freedman, David A.. 2000. “The Fifth-Cell: Correlation Bias in U.S. Census Adjustment.” Evaluation Review 24(April): 191211.

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Making Sense of the Census: It's Political

  • Thomas L. Brunell (a1)


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