OK. Sometimes in this town you’ve really got to pinch yourself to see if you’re having a nightmare or did an elected official really say what I thought he said?
So it is with Congressman Daniel Webster’s (R-FL) defense of his bill to eliminate the American Community Survey, today’s version of the Census data gathering that’s been a core input to what we know about America for well over a century.
Rep Webster argued that the survey is a waste of money because it’s random: “We’re spending $70 per person to fill this out. That’s just not cost effective,” he continued, “especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”
Random sampling is what makes such a survey scientific. That’s the way you ensure that your sample is representative. If you ask folks going into a baseball stadium what’s their favorite sport, your sample is non-random and unrepresentative. In fact, random sampling is a much cheaper and more efficient way to gather information because with large enough samples, you can get representative information without surveying everyone.
As my CBPP colleague Arloc Sherman points out, there’s a lot riding on making sure this legislation is defeated and not for liberal or conservative reasons, but so businesses, governments at all levels, researchers, and so on can analyze the granular information that a RANDOM survey like the ACS provides.
I get that we’re not exactly in fact-driven mode these days when it comes to the national budget debate, but I think any objective observer would admit that this level of either obfuscation or ignorance goes too far.
As Arloc pointed out to me, you can only assume that the same care and attention that went into this comment also went into consideration of the consequences of eliminating the ACS — for all the businesses (such as Target) that rely on the data better serve their customers, and for communities who rely on the data to plan their school needs, receive their appropriate share of federal funds related to highways or medical care, or in dozens of other areas.