Saturday, April 04, 2009

Obama, Democrats and Statistics

Obama to Name Advocate for statistical Sampling to Direct the Census.

Obama To Nominate U-M Prof. For Census Director
President Barack Obama is tapping Robert M. Groves, a University of Michigan professor who has pushed the use of statistical sampling, to be the next census director.

Why does this matter?

Well he is a proponent using statistical sampling, advocates of which claim there is an "undercount" of about 5 million people claimed to not be found in urban and minority areas, which tend to vote Democrat, and any such sampling will only increase the power of these urban areas in terms of congressional districts, spending etc. So the appointment of such an advocate of a method that just happens to cook the census numbers in the Democrats favor, combined with Obama's recent push to make the Census under the purview and control of the White House is enough to get people a bit worried.

As noted in the Detroit Free Press:
But Bob Groves’ selection came amid calls from some Republicans that Obama should pick someone else: During earlier tour as a deputy director of the bureau nearly 20 years ago, Groves advocated statistical sampling as a means of correcting a historically large undercount in the 1990 Census – a stand that put him at odds with the Department of Commerce secretary overseeing the bureau.

Sampling wasn’t used – and by the end of the decade, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that it could not be used in setting congressional representation. But the mere mention of Groves’ name Thursday as the man expected to be appointed by Obama set some Republicans on Capitol Hill on edge.

“With the nomination of Robert Groves, President Obama has made clear that he intends to employ the political manipulation of census data for partisan gain,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives. “This represents a reversal of recent White House assurances that it would not exercise political influence over the census.”

Of course Democrats say they'd do no such thing really:
At the Brookings Institution, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C., Andrew Reamer, an expert on federal statistical policy and programs, called McHenry’s statement “laughable.” He and other Census experts noted there are no plans to use sampling in next year’s count – the bureau’s mission plan doesn’t call for them and it’s too late to start now – and its own officials have questioned in the past whether they have an effective way of employing them to right the tally of historically undercounted populations, like young people, transients, African Americans and Hispanics.

Certainly such an appointment bears watching, and the whole "its too late to do sampling" claim doesn't carry a lot of weight - analytical decisions and processes can be changed and given the attention the Obama Administration is paying to the census there's certainly a risk of "change" happening to the results.

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