Fear of Big Brother and Government Surveys
Other than ten-year population estimates, the United States Census Bureau annually collects information about how people live in the country through the American Community Survey. It's an eleven-page survey [pdf] that asks about your housing situation, education, and job, and there are 60 Republican members of Congress who want to make this currently mandatory survey optional.
The ACS will reach 3.5 million households this year, using dozens of detailed questions—including asking about a household's use of flush toilets, wood fuel and carpools—to determine the need for various government programs. The survey's mandatory status, along with telephone and in-person follow-ups to initial mailings, helps keep response rates near 100%.
Now, 60 Republican members of Congress, including presidential candidate and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, are challenging the survey's mandatory status, with a bill that would make it voluntary to complete the ACS. The push is fueled by privacy concerns and the very detailed nature of the questions.
Find the full details of the bill on the Library of Congress site. Things got interesting when I searched for this link.
To me, the ACS seems like it provides a useful collection of data to help decide how to "dole out more than $400 billion annually." That's not something you can do with anecdotes, and statistical estimates will always carry uncertainty with them that most likely will upset underrepresented areas, etc. Higher response rates usually provide better estimates. Plus, having visited the Bureau last summer, I never even remotely got the sense that anyone there was trying to pull a Big Brother. So if an ACS ever lands in my mailbox (or hopefully my inbox, sooner more than later), I'll fill it out to completion.
This guy, on the other hand, sees things differently, as shown in the video below. He goes through the questions and sarcastically voices his disgust. Then he burns the ACS and ends fittingly with a Ron Paul quote. (Paul, by the way has been against the survey for a while. Here's an article written in 2004.)
This guy didn't like it so much either:
Or this woman:
Even Glenn Beck had something to say about it in 2009.
In fact, you'll find a bunch of these videos with a quick search for American Community Survey on YouTube.
It's odd. Is this a vocal minority or a sample of the majority? Considering the near 100% response rate for millions of households, it's probably the minority, but still.