WASHINGTON — Conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh appeared Friday on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” — an appearance that earned a plug from one of the network’s most enthusiastic viewers, President Donald Trump.
The first order of business in the interview was Trump’s decision on Thursday to back off his seemingly doomed push for a citizenship question on the 2020 census. It’s a move that was a source of obvious frustration to Limbaugh.
“The real controversy here is who took the citizenship question off the census, and why?” Limbaugh said. “Why is the controversy wanting to know who among us happens to be a citizen and who isn’t? Why is that controversial?”
One central answer, in short, is that demographers worry that asking the question will spur both bad data (people lying in their answers) or incomplete data (people declining to respond to the census). To hear Limbaugh tell it, though, it was all a function of Democratic nefariousness — and a sneaky move by former President Barack Obama.
“It would seem to me that this kind of attention should have been asked when somebody in the Obama regime decided to get rid of it,” Limbaugh said of the controversy. Obama and Democrats took the question off the census, he claimed, because “they don’t want them to be counted as noncitizens for a political purpose. All of this, everything the left does, is political. And they couch it in compassion and concern and not wanting to target or single out anybody.”
This is entirely untrue.
For decades, the census conducted every ten years included a question about the naturalization status — that is, citizenship — of immigrants. The last time it did so was in 1950. That question read: “If foreign-born, is he naturalized?” (Past census forms are shown on the Census Bureau’s website, if you’d like to see for yourself.)
About 60 years ago, the Census Bureau decided to have two census forms. One was short and sent to most American households. The other was longer, with more questions, and went to a statistically determined, smaller group of homes.
In 1970, the long-form census included a question about naturalization, but it went to only 5 percent of households — that is, one out of every 20 homes.
That continued through 2000. The 2000 long-form census included a similar question about citizenship; it read: “Is this person a CITIZEN of the United States?”
The sample form hosted at the Bureau’s website includes that year’s distribution. Five out of every six households got the short version of the census form, the one without the citizenship question. One out of every six got the longer version with the question above.
In 2005, while George W. Bush was president, the Bureau’s data collection methodology changed. Instead of collecting this data every ten years, the government created the more frequent American Community Survey, which allowed it to gather the information more regularly.
A Post editorial in October 2005 defended an attempt to cut funding for the program.
“The Founding Fathers recognized the importance of a reliable census, writing the requirement of a decennial count into the Constitution,” it read. “In a large and increasingly mobile society, however, tallies every 10 years are no longer adequate; it takes so long to collect and tally census data. Census officials have moved to address that problem with a monthly assessment called the American Community Survey, produced for the first time this year, which asks the same detailed demographic, economic and social questions as the census long form but produces results yearly.”
The Census Bureau has an archive of the American Community Survey questionnaires, too. One of the questions on the survey this year read: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”
In other words, not only did Obama not remove the question from the census, over the past 10 years it has been asked more frequently than it was before Obama’s two terms in office.
Limbaugh’s assertions on “Fox and Friends,” though, went unchallenged. After it was over, Trump again offered his thoughts on Twitter: “Great job by Rush Limbaugh on @foxandfriends!”