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Polling expert warns Census citizenship question may hamper accuracy

The United States Department of Commerce announced this week that it will include a question on citizenship status in the 2020 decennial Census. Though questions about citizenship are asked for the annual American Community Survey, it will be the first time since 1950 that the question will be posed for a Census.

Kathleen Weldon

Director of Data Operations and Communications at Cornell's Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

Cornell University’s Roper Center for Public Opinion Research houses 22,000 datasets from more than 100 countries dating back to 1937 and has up-to-the-minute results from all major U.S. polls as well as historical data to indicate changes in public opinion over time. Kathleen Weldon, director of data operations and communications at the Roper Center, says that adding a question about citizenship to the Census is concerning to the polling community.

Weldon says:

“Asking about citizenship on the Census is controversial because it is believed that such questions can suppress response among immigrant and other populations. For this reason, major polls tend to avoid questions about citizenship.

“The polling community is particularly concerned about adding a citizenship question to the Census, because survey researchers rely on accurate population statistics from the Census for weighting surveys.

“Accurate Census data are absolutely vital to researchers – weighting to demographic variables like age, sex, or education level is an essential step in producing polling results that are representative of the whole population.”

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