Conservatives Versus Data Collection: The Eternal Struggle

Kevin Cirilli writes about Republican legislation, backed by the reliably fed-skeptical Rep. Ted Poe and Sen. Rand Paul, that would make the annual American Community Survey optional. Currently, the annual ACS – 14 pages of questions about people’s lifestyles – is mandatory for a randomly selected group every year. Not if Poe/Paul get their way.

Poe told POLITICO that he crafted his legislation after constituents complained to him that the information sought is none of the government’s business. “This should be voluntary. It shouldn’t be required, it’s not the government’s job to count toilets — it is their job to count people,” Poe said. “Just because it does some good doesn’t mean the Census Bureau should do it. Tax payers shouldn’t have to fund that. If people want to use the community survey — great. But they shouldn’t be forced to.”

Not surprisingly, this is a fear with very deep roots. Example: After California voters passed Ward Connerly’s amendment to ban affirmative action (a court held up the victory), Connerly theorized that the problem of racial preferences had to be dealt with on the supply side. He campaigned for an initiative that would have barred the state from collecting any information whatsoever about race.

That initiative failed, and spectactularly so. But you still hear conservatives float the idea that less data collection would lead to less groupthink and more freedom – the state could hardly make godly judgments about how many black students should go to Berkley, or which households need “Obamaphones,” if you don’t know who’s black and who doesn’t have a phone.