GOP Rep Daniel Webster Bashes Census Survey As "Random" Rather Than "Scientific"

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May 20 2012 5:24 PM

GOP Rep Daniel Webster Bashes Census Survey As "Random" Rather Than "Scientific"

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Rep Daniel Webster (R-FL)

One of the useful things the federal government does for the economy is produce information as a public good. And the American Community Survey is chock full of information that's useful to researchers, companies, curious individuals, policymakers at different levels of government, etc. But House Republicans have decided that they want to kill it, and it seems clear that some of them have a passion for the cause that completely exceeds their understanding of the issue. Representative Daniel Webster, for example, is a sponsor of the anti-ACS survey in part because he thinks $70 per survey respondent is "not cost effective ... especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey."

In reality, of course, what would not be cost effective would be to try to survey every single American on such a frequent basis. By making the sample random the Census Bureau is able to make scientifically valid inferences about the state of the overall population. It's a little bit sad that any member of congress doesn't understand this, but effective representative democracy (thankfully) doesn't require members of congress to be well-informed about every subject under the sun. It does, however, require members of congress to try to be well-informed about the sub-set of issues they choose to become active on. Webster is badly, badly failing that test here.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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