"Why can't we just ask the question the way it was asked for 50 years before the Obama administration yanked it out of there? We've been asking questions like this — the American Community Survey (ACS) every fifth year asks a similar question. And think of all the questions that nobody complains are included in our U.S. Census every 10 years that include a far, far, far smaller number of Americans or, I would argue, are much more intrusive, invasive and expansive. We're asking people how many toilets in your house, and you don't want to know who's using them? It's absolutely ridiculous, and this is why the president is fighting for its inclusion."
— White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday
Conway, a seasoned pollster, got a lot wrong in this defense of President Donald Trump's plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The Supreme Court last month blocked administration officials from adding the question to the census form. Here's a look at her claims:
"Why can't we just ask the question the way it was asked for 50 years before the Obama administration yanked it out of there?
The Obama administration did not remove the citizenship question from the 2010 Census, so this claim from Conway is unfounded. Her 50-year timeline is sketchy as well, as is her claim that the ACS asks about citizenship every five years.
What actually happened: The Census Bureau discontinued its long-form supplement after sending it out in 2000. That separate survey included a citizenship question.
Obama was in office when the next decennial census rolled around, in 2010. But the Census Bureau had switched over to the ACS in 2005 — before Obama took office. Furthermore, the 2010 ACS included a citizenship question. So there was no yanking on Obama's part.
Conway mentioned the way the citizenship question "was asked for 50 years." Perhaps she meant the long form used from 1960 to 2000, though that was 40 years. Otherwise, the math makes no sense. The census citizenship question first appeared in some form in 1820. It appeared continually from 1890 to 1950 on the census form. And it has appeared in the ACS since 2005, which covers all of Obama's time in office.
According to Conway, the ACS asks about citizenship "every fifth year." The questionnaires are all archived online, and the citizenship question appears in every one. As the Justice Department wrote in a filing to the Supreme Court, citizenship questions "have been part of the ACS every year since its inception in 2005."
Conway, the White House press office and the Census Bureau did not respond to questions.
From 1960 to 2000, the long-form census supplement asked a version of this question: "Do you have complete plumbing facilities in this house, apartment, or mobile home; that is, 1) hot and cold piped water, 2) a flush toilet, and 3) a bathtub or shower?"
Because it appeared on the supplemental survey, only 1 in 6 households were asked about plumbing. Officials use the data to manage housing subsidies and other programs.
Conway's comparison is misleading because the ACS stopped asking about toilets after 2015 — but it continues to ask about citizenship.
Let's recap: The Obama administration did not yank the citizenship question from the 2010 Census. Conway's 50-year timeline doesn't add up. The ACS asks about citizenship every year, not every five years. The supplemental surveys that asked about toilets also asked about citizenship. The ACS no longer asks about toilets, but still asks about citizenship.