The present and future of the census

Stephen Gordon points to four essays on the census from the current issue of Canadian Public Policy. Separately, he himself takes on the idea that a voluntary census will provide more truthful responses.

It is possible that individual files will have fewer errors if the census is voluntary, but these gains look to be small and – in the absence of empirical evidence – mainly hypothetical. In contrast, the losses associated with self-selection bias are large and well-documented. If the government wishes to pursue this idea, then it should be field-tested before making it a basis for policy.

But the main reason why I am skeptical of claims that a voluntary survey will yield more ‘honest’ results is the way the government has handled the file. After a summer of mockery and dismissiveness, the government and its supporters have created a significant constituency that now believes that the census is a tool of its political opponents. We’re going to get the worst of both worlds: a census with a biased sample and a higher rate of inaccurate responses.

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