Taking a rare political stand, Nielsen has come out against a bid by the Donald Trump administration to add a citizenship requirement to the 2020 census. The measurement firm maintains that such a stipulation would suppress participation in the census, leading to a “significant undercount,” in the words of CEO David Kenny.
The citizenship drive, spearheaded by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, has been formally opposed by more than 30 states, cities and counties. New York State, recently won a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York. Commerce has appealed it to the Supreme Court, arguing the stipulation is a routine matter. Opponents counter that it is a way to disenfranchise non-citizens who are largely non-white, which could provide a more favorable political landscape in certain parts of the country but harm many others in the process.
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Businesses — including trade groups like the Internet Advertising Bureau and the Advertising Research Foundation — fear reduced results that could hurt their bottom lines. In the case of television, a sizable chunk of the roughly $75 billion a year spent on television ads is at stake.
Kenny took the unusual step of penning a New York Times op-ed on Monday, ahead of Tuesday’s high court hearing of arguments in the case, in addition to a post for Nielsen’s own website.
“If the government is successful in adding the citizenship question to the 2020 census, the census will contain flawed data that will have far-reaching consequences for U.S. commerce and media, retail and consumer packaged goods businesses,” Kenny wrote in the Nielsen blog post. “Billions of dollars follow these counts.”
As Kenny sees it, the bid to add citizenship as a component of the census is an effort to stave off the effects of an inevitable reshaping of the U.S. population. By 2044, he wrote in the Times, “white Americans will be a minority. We know that because prior decennial census data has told us so.” At that point, Hispanics will make up 25% of the population; African-Americans, 12.7%; Asians, 7.9%; and multiracial people, 3.7%.
“American businesses are already adapting to this evolving customer base, but they require the best possible data to do so,” Kenny wrote.
Trump officials have maintained that the citizenship question has been included over recent decades, except when it was removed in 2010. Fact-checks have since shown that the last year that all U.S. households were asked about citizenship was 1950.
In March 2018, Ross claimed in a memo that the goal of the initiative was merely to gain “more complete information” about the U.S. population. “The Department of Commerce is not able to determine definitively how inclusion of a citizenship question on the decennial census will impact responsiveness,” he wrote. “However, even if there is some impact on responses, the value of more complete and accurate data derived from surveying the entire population outweighs such concerns. Completing and returning decennial census questionnaires is required by Federal law, those responses are protected by law, and inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 decennial census will provide more complete information for those who respond.”
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