President Trump has recently stated that he may issue an executive order to place a question on the 2020 Census about US residents' citizenship status.

This comes after the Supreme Court has already issued a ruling that the Commerce Department's stated reasoning behind including the question was unconvincing.

What are the stated reasons Trump and the Republicans want this question on the Census? What reasons have Democratic Party politicians and progressive pundits expressed for opposing it?

  • 19
    The question has been on nearly every previous census. Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 19:16
  • 17
    @chrylis: Only on the long form version. It's never been on the short version that the vast majority of people fill. Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 19:27
  • 11
    @DenisdeBernardy: the Supreme Court says "There have been 23 decennial censuses since 1790. All but one between 1820 and 2000 asked at least some of the population about their citizenship or place of birth. The question was asked of all households until 1950". The 1940 Census was the first to include a statistical sample wherein five percent of people were asked additional questions. The citizenship question ("If foreign born, is the person a citizen?") was asked of all people: census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/index_of_questions/…
    – A. Rex
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 1:50
  • 13
    I'm voting to close this as opinion based. Ultimately, we can't read minds. Particularly on anything related to Trump, there's going to be fierce disagreement about his intentions. There's no way to answer this objectively other than take him at his word, which many are unwilling to do. If you'd like his stated reasons, you could ask that and get an objective answer, but editing here would invalidate some answers.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 12:56
  • 7
    I'm with @jpmc26 on this. The administration stated a reason, and the SCOTUS said it was unconvincing. We can cite that stated reason, but that won't really answer the question. We can cite the opposition's explanation of the "true" reason, but that's (informed) opinion and would be better asked as a "what do they say?" question. Or we can try and read Trump's mind, but that'd be speculation. In other words, there's no way to actually answer this as posed.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 14:14

4 Answers 4


I think the best is for you to dive into the following two podcasts (both have a transcript) of Chris Hayes interviewing Dale Ho, one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit (and won) against the Trump administration:

For what reason do Trump and the Republicans want this question on the Census?

Their purported reason didn't pass a sniff test in court. The actual reason is discussed at length in the above two references, complete with a whirlwind tour of the evidence they presented in court to win their case -- namely, evidence that the Trump administration lied about its stated intentions, and evidence about its actual intents.

In short, the Trump administration is seeking to suppress census participation in communities of color, which are more likely to have non-citizens and illegal immigrants around.

Why do Democrats generally oppose it?

The census results are very consequential when it comes to apportionment of seats in Congress and funding to districts:

CHRIS HAYES: Right? I mean, these are the number of people, and then that is used by the states when they do their districts, is that how it works?

DALE HO: Well, first it's used to apportion the number of seats that each states get in [...] the House of Representatives. And then the states use that data when they draw district lines for their own state legislatures. Which, they're required under the Supreme Court's decision Reynolds v. Sims to have districts that have roughly equal numbers of people in them. [...]

CHRIS HAYES: All the sudden you're looking at a situation in which apportionment between representatives might be on the line.

DALE HO: That's absolutely right. So if African Americans and Hispanics are undercounted then the areas, the states, the localities that have larger African American and Hispanic communities will have a lower population count, they'll get less representation. Federal funding is also dependent for a lot of programs on census counts. 900 billion dollars of funds for federal programs every year is allocated on the basis on census counts-

As to:

Why hasn't this question been on previous censuses?

Per this link, the question has never been on the short form version of the Census since it was established in 1970 until now. (Though it apparently was on the longer form and forms through 1950.)

But the article doesn't go into the underlying reasons it never made it in there. My first reference above does: citizenship simply doesn't matter from an apportionment standpoint.

CHRIS HAYES: What does the Constitution say about the census? What is the idea behind it in the founding document?

DALE HO: The idea behind it is that we need a complete and accurate count of the entire population of the United States because that's the basis for apportioning representation in the House of Representatives, which is based on, you know, population, right? So, it's a foundation pillar of our democracy and the fair distribution of political power as the founders envisioned. [...]

DALE HO: [...] what the 14th Amendment does, after the Civil War, is it not only makes sure that everyone born in the United States is a citizen, but it makes clear that everyone gets counted for purposes of apportionment, unless you're in this sort of, you know, particular category people living on reservations that are part of Native American tribes and aren't subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

  • 27
    Answer rejected for using opposition propaganda (lawyer who argued against it) to try to explain Trump/Republican position on the issue. Please use a reliable source Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 18:15
  • 63
    @ThomasThomas: huh? This is a reliable source. The guy and his team went on to fight this in court against the Trump administration and win, all the way to a Republican controlled Supreme Court. If you're unwilling or unable to accept the tests of judicial scrutiny and evidence, why on earth are you asking a question here? Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 19:11
  • 15
    @ThomasThomas the question asks for the administration's reason, but your comment rejects the answer because you day you want their (stated) position. Which is it? The supreme court has essentially found that the administration has been disingenuous, so it would be better if you could be explicit about that you're seeking.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 19:12
  • 17
    @pipe: A visiting tourist would not, because they don't live there. A non-citizen would. What the 14th amendment spells out is that everyone who actually lives in a location counts: citizen, former slave, non-citizen. Whether an illegal ought to count hasn't been tested in court to the best of my knowledge, but the 14th amendment section 2 doesn't leave much room for interpretation: "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed." (emphasis mine) Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 19:25
  • 7
    The 14th amendment mentions neither non-citizens nor non-residents. All it says is "whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed". So one could quite reasonably argue that non-residents are included or that non-citizens should not be. The 14th amendment doesn't say anything about either.
    – Brythan
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 10:03


Thomas Hofeller, a Republican strategist developed a "computerized mapping system" for state redistricting. To use that system in every state required knowing citizenship. The citizenship question was proposed for the 2020 census to collect that information. While this might cause an undercount affecting apportionment, that was never its purpose. I recommend a complete reading of the Vox article, quoted in part below, for its discussion on census response rates and undercounts and how the Census Bureau tries to ensure a complete count.

The citizenship question is not directly related to President Trump (though it might provide some benefit); but, rather, it was intended specifically for state redistricting, though presumably it could be used for Congressional redistricting. Such redistricting would last for ten years, thus beyond President Trump's last term.

What was needed to put the strategy into effect was the right, willing administration official and some support.

Thomas Hofeller was a Republican political strategist primarily known for his involvement in gerrymandering electoral district maps favorable for Republicans.

In the early 1970s, Hofeller developed a "computerized mapping system" for the California State Assembly. In the 1980s, he was behind a strategy to increase Republican power in the South by using the 1965 Voting Rights Act to create more majority-black districts and thus pack African-Americans into fewer districts and make it easier for Republican candidates to win the remaining white districts. According to The New York Times, Hofeller's views on skewed maps appeared to be motivated by a desire to strengthen Republican power; during the 1980s, Hofeller opposed Democratic maps that were skewed in favor of Democrats, but later became an advocate for similar maps skewed to favor Republicans.

[Emphasis added.]

Vox, The fight over the 2020 census citizenship question, explained, June 12, 2019:

The discovery of hard drives from a Republican operative that included a study on the effect of drawing state legislative districts based on the citizen population pointed to another political advantage Republicans could gain and added to a pile of evidence about the administration’s original intent. With census data on citizenship, the Republican operative, Thomas Hofeller, wrote, conservative states with large immigrant populations could vote to exclude non-citizens from the count they use to draw state legislative districts, consolidating Republican statehouse control.

[Emphasis added.]

Strategy versus tactic:

Strategy is a set of choices aimed to provide required environment for performing an action required for achievement of a goal, while tactics are the specific actions, the strategy make the tactical options (in which efficiency can vary based on variables) available for selection.

In other words, tactic is a set of actions with certain requirements, aimed to achieve a goal, and strategy is a set of actions aimed to achieve a goal using the available resources.

The goal for Republicans is Republican control of government. The goal for President Trump is campaign promises.

The strategy was to use federal law as a means to enhance Republican control and thus reduce Democratic influence.

The tactic was to use the 1965 Voting Rights Act as a reason for collecting citizenship data in the 2020 Census.

Why does Trump want a citizenship question on the census?

As the nominal head of the Republican Party, President Trump is expected to use his position to further the goals of the Republican National Committee (RNC). One of those goals is targeted redistricting for which the RNC needs the citizenship question on the census. This is needed for the plan devised by Thomas Hofeller who was a paid consultant to the RNC. While the citizenship question and redistricting were not among President Trump's campaign promises, helping their political party is expected of all presidents.

The point being that President Trump and the Republican Party may have different goals. President Trump has used different tactics, for example, to try to get the wall. Republicans have used different tactics for their goals. In this case, the tactic, if successful, could satisfy their different goals.

A tactic is not the goal it is simply a means to that end.

Another strategy and tactic could be to use the Constitution and an Executive Order to ask the question. (It's a novel approach; I could find no prior case law in my usual sources.)


He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; ...

Claim that the census question is necessary to recommend to Congress such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient and this cannot be done without asking the question.

Different tactic same goal; both tactics using the citizenship question.

What are the stated reasons Trump and the Republicans want this question on the Census?

Trump considering executive order on citizenship question for census:

"You need it for many reasons. Number one, you need it for Congress, for districting. You need it for appropriations: Where are the funds going, how many people are there, are they citizens, are they not citizens? You need it for many reasons,” Trump said.

The Republicans (the RNC) wants the question for redistricting, as mentioned earlier. President Trump, who is planning on being president for four more years, wants more Republicans in Congress. Both need more Republican control to meet their goals.

Even though the plan has been made public, raising the citizenship issue by pressing for the inclusion of the question in the census will provide talking points for the 2020 election campaigns. That is, Democrats may be asked to justify why representation for illegal immigrants is more important than representation for citizens. It may also spur smaller, Republican controlled states to push for a Consitutional convention to add an amendment making citizenship the basis for apportionment, as mentioned below.

Whether or not the question is actually included on the census, it appears to be a win for Republicans; simply because it's in the news and being discussed.

The Census Bureau can supply citizenship data to states, without asking the citizenship question.

In Major Move, Census Bureau Offers Up Citizenship Data For Redistricting, December 28, 2018:

In what could be a major change for voting rights and the distribution of political power between urban and rural areas, the Census Bureau signaled Friday that it is willing to work with state and local officials charged with drawing voting districts if they want citizenship data for the redistricting process.

The Federal Courts are no longer involved in most redistricting.

Supreme Court Rules Partisan Gerrymandering Is Beyond The Reach Of Federal Courts, June 27, 2019:

In a 5-4 decision along traditional conservative-liberal ideological lines, the Supreme Court ruled that partisan redistricting is a political question — not reviewable by federal courts — and that those courts can't judge if extreme gerrymandering violates the Constitution.

The ruling puts the onus on the legislative branch, and on individual states, to police redistricting efforts.

Two more wins for Republicans.

And, also for Republicans, it appears the goal is to reduce the number of Democrats in the House of Representatives. But the current attempt is not the first.

The Congressional Reseach Service provided a report, Constitutionality of Excluding Aliens from the Census for Apportionment and Redistricting Purposes, April 13, 2012.

From time to time, Congress has considered legislation that would exclude all aliens or prevent only unauthorized aliens from being included in the census for purposes of apportioning House seats among the states. Such legislation would have either amended the Census Clause of the Constitution or enacted or amended federal census statutes. Although such legislation has yet to be introduced in the 112th Congress, in the 111th Congress, legislation was introduced that used both approaches. The Fairness in Representation Act would have statutorily excluded aliens from the population count for apportionment purposes (H.R. 3797 and S. 1688). Under the above analysis, it would not appear to be constitutionally sufficient for Congress to amend the federal census statutes in such manner. Meanwhile, H.J.Res. 11 would take the other approach and amend the Constitution so that only U.S. citizens would be counted in the apportionment calculation.

H.J.Res.11, 111th Congrss, was introduced January 7, 2009.

H.J.Res.11 - Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to provide that Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the number of persons in each State who are citizens of the United States.

This resolution had 27 Republican cosponsors and one Democratic cosponsor.

What reasons have Democratic Party politicians and progressive pundits expressed for opposing it?

One belief is that an undercount will occur, thus reducing the amount (Federal dollars) sent to communities. Another is that an undercount will affect apportionment.


Democrats worry the real purpose of having the census count citizens is to change how seats in Congress are allocated

[Emphasis original.]

Democrats celebrate announcement on citizenship census question:

Critics have pushed back on the White House's efforts to ensure its inclusion for months, arguing it had the potential to cause noncitizens and anyone else in their households to skip filling out the question or partaking in the census altogether, which could lead to an inaccurate count.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) released a statement shortly after the decision was announced, calling it "a victory for our democracy."

"The exclusion of the citizenship question from the census is a victory for our democracy and for fair representation of all communities in this country," Schumer said. "The Trump administration’s politically-motivated efforts to undermine the Constitution in this instance were so reprehensible that even the conservative Supreme Court couldn’t let them get away with it. Democrats in Congress will be watching the Trump administration like a hawk to ensure there is no wrong-doing throughout this process and that every single person is counted."

Other Senate Democrats also heaped on the praise, including Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illi.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).

And Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said the announcement was a "victory for democracy," arguing the change could have impacted the amount of money appropriated for key priorities in certain areas of the country.

"Victory for democracy! The Constitution requires a count of ALL people. Now we need your help to spread the word and encourage everybody in your community to participate in #Census2020. An accurate count impacts representation & federal $$$ for housing, transpo, health & more," she said on Twitter.

Why hasn't this question been on previous Censuses?

It has been asked before.

FACT CHECK: Has Citizenship Been A Standard Census Question?:

The census has been conducted every decade since 1790 to get a national head count used most critically to decide the distribution of congressional representation. At first it was conducted by U.S. marshals, but later surveys were sent to most American households, with census workers helping those who didn't promptly return their surveys.

The last time a citizenship question was among the census questions for all U.S. households was in 1950. That form asked where each person was born and in a follow-up question asked, "If foreign born — Is he naturalized?"

In 1960, there was no such question about citizenship, only about place of birth.

Starting in 1970, questions about citizenship were included in the long-form questionnaire but not the short form. For instance, in 2000, those who received the long form were asked, "Is this person a CITIZEN of the United States?"

Later, the census added the American Community Survey, conducted every year and sent to 3.5 million households. It began being fully implemented in 2005. It asks many of the same questions as the census long-form surveys from 1970 to 2000, including the citizenship question.

But if the 2020 census form does ultimately ask about citizenship status, it will be the first time the U.S. census has directly asked for the citizenship status of every person living in every household.

  • 12
    That's his stated justification. There's reason to think it's not necessarily true.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 4:45
  • 5
    From the American Community Survey website: "The Census Bureau is legally bound to strict confidentiality requirements. Individual records are not shared with anyone, including federal agencies and law enforcement entities. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share respondents' answers with anyone—not the IRS, not the FBI, not the CIA, and not with any other government agency." (emphasis added) If true, non-citizens should have no fear of being identified and discriminated..OTOH, given generalized distrust of the government (by both political stripes) ..persons-at-risk are properly skeptical
    – BobE
    Commented Jul 6, 2019 at 18:07
  • 4
    @Obie2.0 There's reasons to think Democrats want illegals to vote. We could speculate all day, but it doesn't further the discussion.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 12:55
  • 3
    @immibis Also, consider that all Congress has to do is revise the non-disclosure to allow disclosure to law enforcement. The upshot is that a person's future is dependent on the makeup of Congress. Best course of action is to not report anyone in your household at all.
    – BobE
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 2:12
  • 3
    Of course, deciding to exclude the non-citizen residents from apportionment would go directly against a founding principle upon which the United States of America was based: "No Taxation without Representation". A non-citizen resident may no longer (as of 1996/1926, depending on if it is a Federal or State election) be permitted to vote for their Representative, but they are permitted to have one. Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 14:15

Your question has multiple parts. This answer does not attempt to determine the motivations of any of the relevant parties, but rather only to address the history of the census question as it pertains to this inquiry:

Why hasn't this question been on previous censuses?

The first page of the syllabus of the recent Supreme Court decision in Department of Commerce v. New York states the following:

There have been 23 decennial censuses since 1790. All but one between 1820 and 2000 asked at least some of the population about their citizenship or place of birth. The question was asked of all households until 1950, and was asked of a fraction of the population on an alternative long-form questionnaire between 1960 and 2000. In 2010, the citizenship question was moved from the census to the American Community Survey, which is sent each year to a small sample of households.

The United States Census Bureau has a webpage called "What questions were asked during each census?", which links to a 149-page PDF called "Measuring America: The Decennial Census From 1790 to 2000" that contains "questionnaire images, instructions to enumerators, and a brief history of each of the censuses". Using this resource as well as many other available resources, we may determine the precise questions that were asked in the past and thus understand more precisely what is meant above. The years written below link to lists of questions.

In 1820, "inquiries were made to ascertain the number of foreigners not naturalized." The 1830 Census included "a statement, of White persons only, who were aliens, i.e., foreigners not naturalized". The 1840 Census did not ask about place of birth nor naturalization. The Censuses of 1850 and 1860 (of free inhabitants) and of 1880 appear to have asked only of the place of birth. The 1870 Census asked for the place of birth as well as whether the person was "a male citizen of the United States of 21 years or upwards".

The 1890 Census asked for the place of birth, and for "adult males of foreign birth who are 21 years of age or over", "whether naturalized" as well as "whether naturalization papers have been taken out" if not naturalized. (Special notation is made also for a person born in a for­eign country of American parents, specifically including the words "American citizen.")

The 1900, 1910, and 1920 Censuses asked about place of birth in a section called "Nativity". They also specifically included a section called "Citizenship" that asked for the "year of immigration to the United States" and "number of years in the United States" for "all foreign-born persons, male and female, of whatever age". Only for "foreign-born males 21 years of age and over" was asked whether the person is naturalized or taken out his "first" papers. The 1920 Census (and no other census!) further asked for the year of naturalization.

The 1930 and 1940 Censuses were essentially similar to those of the previous paragraph, except the place of birth was asked in a section directly called "Place of Birth" and the naturalization question applied to all foreign-born persons. ("Prior to September 22, 1922, a woman became a citizen when her husband was naturalized. Since that date, she must take out papers in her own name, and if she does not do this she remains an alien even though her husband becomes naturalized.") The 1950 Census was also essentially the same, except the section titles were not present.

The 1960 Census asked for the place of birth "on a 25-percent basis", but did not appear to ask about naturalization or citizenship at all. The 1970 Census asked for the place of birth on a 20 percent ("15 and 5 percent") sample basis and regarding naturalization on a 5 percent sample basis. The 1980 Census had a more complicated sampling strategy (in effect, ~15% in urban areas and ~25% in rural areas) wherein ~18% of the population was asked regarding their place of birth and whether they were "a naturalized citizen of the United States". The 1990 and 2000 Censuses similarly asked approximately a sixth of the population regarding their place of birth and whether they were "a citizen of the United States" (with options of "born in the United States", "born in Puerto Rico ...", "born abroad of American parents", "a U.S. citizen by naturalization", and "not a citizen").

The 2010 Census did not ask about nativity nor citizenship, as these questions were now moved to the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS surveys a random sample of addresses at a rate of 1-in-480 per month. The ACS includes essentially the same question as in the previous paragraph above, including also the year of naturalization.

  • 1
    Nice compendium, but distinction should be made as to each persons nativity or citizenship status versus a sampling survey. Apparently, since 1960 the census bureau was satisfied with a sampling to infer a demographic of citizenship. Also, a small nit, is that prior to 1850 all persons were not identified, rather the head of the household was asked how many were in an age bracket or were female etc, spouses and children or lodgers were not identified by name.
    – BobE
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 2:46
  • 1
    Continued: But all the decennial census fulfilled the constitutional mandate of 'counting the people' for purposes apportionment based on the population. Other information, while interesting (like, does you household have a radio ?) is not germane to the central role of apportionment of congressional representation.
    – BobE
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 3:02

What reasons have Democratic Party politicians and progressive pundits expressed for opposing it?

Because it already is on the American Community Survey: enter image description here

Therefore not needed in the census for demographic purposes. If the responses to this question aren't for demographic purposes, and by law, answers to the Federal Census or the ACS cannot be shared with other federal agencies (including IRS, FBI, ICE) then there seems to be no valid rationale. (other than a political reason)

I honestly don't remember what "pundit" pointed this out - so I can't source it specifically.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .