US Rep. Dan Webster wrongly bashes census survey as “random” rather than scientific

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Matt Yglesias: 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.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.