It was bad enough when House Republicans voted to politicize the National Science Foundation, effectively telling the NSF what is and isn’t acceptable science to fund. As Ezra Klein recently explained, “That’s not how scientific decisions are supposed to work. And the effect could be chilling.”
But it’s just as bad that House Republicans have targeted the American Community Survey. As Catherine Rampell reported, it’s arguably “the most important government function you’ve never heard of, and it’s in trouble.”
This survey of American households has been around in some form since 1850, either as a longer version of or a richer supplement to the basic decennial census. It tells Americans how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on.
It is, more or less, the country’s primary check for determining how well the government is doing — and in fact what the government will be doing. The survey’s findings help determine how over $400 billion in government funds is distributed each year.
Last week, House Republicans voted to eliminate the American Community Survey altogether.
Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) took the lead in trying to kill the survey, arguing that the research “intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators.”
Webster added that the American Community Survey “is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”
I’m not sure which of those words – “scientific” or “random” – confuses the Republican congressman more, but Webster clearly has no idea what he’s talking about.
Rampell’s report added, “Each year the Census Bureau polls a representative, randomized sample of about three million American households about demographics, habits, languages spoken, occupation, housing and various other categories. The resulting numbers are released without identifying individuals, and offer current demographic portraits of even the country’s tiniest communities. It is the largest (and only) data set of its kind and is used across the federal government in formulas that determine how much funding states and communities get for things like education and public health.”
Republicans used to support the ACS, up until quite recently.
A New York Times editorial noted:
The American Community Survey, which gives annual updates of Americans’ economic, demographic and housing characteristics, is widely considered a vital tool for business decision makers. It is also a bipartisan creation. First used in 2005, it is a more timely and accurate way to ask questions that used to be posed on the “long form” decennial census.
Indeed, in 2006, Republican Congressional staff members participated in efforts to promote the survey under the slogan “Better Data for Better Decisions.”
The House GOP, I’m afraid, has become even more right-wing than it was six years ago. As the Times editorial noted, the result is “know-nothingness at a new level.”