Obama’s census director

OBAMA’S CENSUS DIRECTOR…. Given the recent Republican uproar over the Obama administration and the census — Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) believes the president will use the census as part of an elaborate conspiracy to keep Democrats in power for up to “40 years” — there’s been more interest than usual in the president’s choice as census director.

Now that Obama has chosen an expert in statistics and sampling, the GOP is even more upset.

Robert M. Groves, a former census official and now a sociology professor at the University of Michigan, was nominated Thursday by President Obama to run the Census Bureau, a choice that instantly made Republicans nervous. […]

Republicans expressed alarm because of one of Mr. Groves’s specialties, statistical sampling — roughly speaking, the process of extrapolating from the numbers of people actually counted to arrive at estimates of those uncounted and, presumably, arriving at a realistic total.

If minorities, immigrants, the poor and the homeless are those most likely to be missed in an actual head count, and if political stereotypes hold true, then statistical sampling would presumably benefit the Democrats.

And what matters more than an accurate, reliable count is a census that undercounts those who might be inclined to vote for Democrats. Adam Serwer summarized the matter nicely: “Republicans are mad about the census choice because his ability to do his job correctly might benefit Democrats.”

Groves, by any reasonable measure, is uniquely qualified for the post, and was associate director of statistical design at the Census Bureau in the H.W. Bush administration. Mark Blumenthal explained, “It is something of an understatement to describe Robert Groves as ‘an expert in survey methodology.’ He is one of our nations’ most respected survey methodologists and arguably the leading authority on the subject of non-response in surveys.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and of the institutions more embarrassing members, described this nomination as “incredibly troubling” and evidence that the administration wants to use the census to “advance an ulterior political agenda.”

Blumenthal responded to these complaints, noting, “The notion of Bob Groves yielding to partisanship is laughable. As in rolling on the floor laughing out loud laughable. Groves is well known and universally respected among survey researchers and Census Bureau professionals alike. He is an ideal choice for this appointment.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.