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Planning and Conducting Surveys

Avoiding bias when sampling

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The United States Census

Every ten years the United States conducts a census, counting the number of people currently living in the U.S. The census comes in both a “short form” and a “long form.” The short form asks households to submit the number of people living in the household, their birthdates, and their race/ethnicity. In the long form, households are asked additional questions about educational background, disabilities, military service, employment, transportation, income, residence, etc.

Why It Matters

The data collected from the U.S. Census is used for a variety of purposes, including determining the number of congressional representatives for each state and how monies collected from federal taxes will be distributed among the states. Federal tax money distribution is heavily determined by the responses to the long-form questions of the census. However, the long form, just as its name indicates, is very long. The Census Bureau has found that if the long-form version of the census is sent to every household, the likelihood that people will not respond increases. So, the Census Bureau typically sends the short form to every household and only sends the long form to a few random households. Additionally, the long form is sent out monthly to approximately 250,000 households as part of the ongoing American Community Survey, in an effort to capture accurate statistics about households over time—rather than every ten years like the official Census.

With over 300,000,000 people living in the United States, it is incredibly important that the Census Bureau conducts both the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey carefully in order to ensure different populations and communities are represented, the questions are unbiased, the interview methods are varied, and every person is fairly and accurately represented. These few questions and the responses provided impact our government, federal funding, and the welfare of our communities, cities, states, and, ultimately, the country as a whole.

See for yourself: http://www.census.gov/

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The Census Bureau is considering the option of allowing households to complete the Census online rather than on paper for the 2020 Census. In terms of survey design, what would be some advantages and challenges of conducting the Census in this way?

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