June 2024

IZA DP No. 17073: Citizenship Question Effects on Household Survey Response

J. David Brown, Misty L. Heggeness

Several small-sample studies have predicted that a citizenship question in the 2020 Census would cause a large drop in self-response rates. In contrast, minimal effects were found in Poehler et al.'s (2020) analysis of the 2019 Census Test randomized controlled trial (RCT). We reconcile these findings by analyzing associations between characteristics about the addresses in the 2019 Census Test and their response behavior by linking to independently constructed administrative data. We find significant heterogeneity in sensitivity to the citizenship question among households containing Hispanics, naturalized citizens, and noncitizens. Response drops the most for households containing noncitizens ineligible for a Social Security number (SSN). It falls more for households with Latin American-born immigrants than those with immigrants from other countries. Response drops less for households with U.S.-born Hispanics than households with noncitizens from Latin America. Reductions in responsiveness occur not only through lower unit self-response rates, but also by increased household roster omissions and internet break-offs. The inclusion of a citizenship question increases the undercount of households with noncitizens. Households with noncitizens also have much higher citizenship question item nonresponse rates than those only containing citizens. The use of tract-level characteristics and significant heterogeneity among Hispanics, the foreign-born, and noncitizens help explain why the effects found by Poehler et al. were so small. Linking administrative microdata with the RCT data expands what we can learn from the RCT.