Robert M. Groves

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Robert M. Groves is Research Professor at the University of Michigan and a survey expert who has authored many technical articles and books on the topic. President Obama has nominated him to head the U.S. Census Bureau, with responsibility for Census 2010.

The 2010 Census

Groves will be in charge of 12,000 permanent employees and 1.4 million temporary workers joining the Census Bureau’s team for the 2010 count that will take place in spring 2010. The final cost is estimated to be $15 billion, the most expensive ever, and experts have long said the Census Bureau must do more to reduce a persistent under count among minorities, as well as to modernize what is basically a paper mailing operation that has been in place for decades. Critics complain the Bureau has a bad reputation in terms of antiquated procedures, failing technology and incompetent bureaucrats. Groves says the Bureau is woefully outdated, saying it lacks scientific talent due to a recent and upcoming wave of retirements. He acknowledged he lacked extensive management experience to run the bureau’s sprawling operations but said he was up to the task.


In May 2009 six former Census Bureau directors—appointed both by Democratic and Republican presidents—wrote a letter to Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent who is chairman of the Homeland Security committee, describing Dr. Groves as a "nonpartisan, academic researcher" who has "published three of the most-cited textbooks and numerous journal articles on survey research." They called him "one of the half-dozen most highly regarded survey research methodologists not only in the United States but in the world."[1]

His confirmation was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee by voice vote without objections, and he appears assured of full Senate approval. Groves assured the Senate on the sampling issue. He also expressed concern about a persistent undercount of minorities, who typically vote for Democrats, but he has not said whether he would push for a government halt to immigration raids — as the Census Bureau successfully did in 2000. After the hearing hearing, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he appreciated Groves' commitment regarding sampling but said he would remain watchful for a "census potentially being tainted by political influence."


Based on court precedents and the Census Act, the Secretary of Commerce has power to conduct the census in whatever way he deems will be most accurate, including the use of adjustment methods. The Census Act states, "Except for the determination of population for purposes of apportionment of Representatives in Congress among the several States, the Secretary shall, if he considers it feasible, authorize the use of the statistical method known as 'sampling' in carrying out the provisions of this title.""

Readjustment in 1990

In 1990-92 Groves associate director of statistical design for the Census Bureau.

He recommended that the 1990 census be statistically adjusted to make up for an undercount of roughly 5 million people, who otherwise would be left out.[2] The Census Bureau was overruled by Republican Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher.[3]

In Doc v. United States House of Representatives, 525 U.S. 316 (1999) the Supreme Court ruled that "statistical sampling cannot be used to apportion congressional seats, but can be used for other purposes.[4]

Books and Articles

A complete list can be found here: Groves Robert

Groves' books recent books and articles focus heavily on the psychology and methodology of telephone surveys. Many of these discuss methods for dealing with survey non-response, and Groves suggests various adjustments to make up for nonresponse.

"The expressions above concern sample values and estimates, unadjusted in any way to compensate for nonresponse. It is common, however, to use weighting class adjustments (Bethlehem 2002), raking (Deville, Särndal, and Sautory 1993), calibration methods (Deville and Särndal 1992; Lundström and Särndal 1999), or propensity models (Ekholm and Laaksonen 1991) to reduce the biasing effects of response propensities correlated with the survey variables."[5]

Groves admits that "some adjustments may make matters worse."[6]

Nevertheless, he says, "Since probability samples have the advantage of eliminating bias at the selection step, it is useful to consider assembling auxiliary variables to compensate for nonresponse bias through the use of strong postsurvey adjustment models."[7]


In 2001, Groves authored a book entitled Survey Nonresponse.

P. Biemer, R. Groves, L. Lyberg, N. Mathiowetz, and S. Sudman (eds.), Measurement Errors in Surveys, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1991.

Groves, Robert M., and Couper, Mick P., Nonresponse in Household Interview Surveys, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1998. (AAPOR Book Award winner, 2008)

Groves, Robert M., D. Dillman, J. Eltinge, R. Little, Survey Nonresponse, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2002. Groves, Robert M., F. Fowler, Jr., M. Couper, J. Lepkowski, E. Singer, and R. Tourangeau, Survey Methodology, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2004.


1995—Kessler, R.C., Little, R.J.A., and Groves, R.M. (1995) "Advances in Strategies for Minimizing and Adjusting for Survey Nonresponse," Epidemiological Reviews, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 192–204.

1996—Couper, M.P. and Groves, R.M. (1996), “Household Level Determinants of Survey Nonresponse,” Chapter Five in Braverman, M.T. and Slater, J.K. (eds.) Advances in Survey Research, pp. 63–80.

2001—Groves, R., and Couper, M., “Designing Surveys Acknowledging Nonresponse,” Chapter 1 in ver Ploeg, M; Moffitt, R.; and Citro, C. (eds.) Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues, Washington: National Academy Press, 2001, pp. 11–54.

2002—Dillman, D., Eltinge, J., Groves, R., and Little, R. , “Survey Nonresponse in Design, Data Collection, and Analysis, “ Chapter 1 in Groves, R.; Dillman, D., Eltinge, J., and Little, R. (eds.), Survey Nonresponse, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2002, pp 3–26.

2006 -- Groves, R. “Nonresponse Rates and Nonresponse Bias in Household Surveys,” Public Opinion Quarterly, 2006, pp. 646-675.

Present Stance on Sampling

"In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the nominee, Robert M. Groves, said he supported the view of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who oversees the Census Bureau and has said there are no plans to use statistical sampling in the 2010 count."[8]

Although Groves states he will not use sampling, it is not inconceivable that he could attempt to use other tricks in 2010. For example, hot-deck imputation is an unregulated technique with power to significantly change results, depending on how it is applied.

Criticism of Groves' Nomination

House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio):

“Conducting the census is a vital Constitutional obligation. Its findings help determine how hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are spent, as well as how the American people are represented in Congress. It should be as solid, reliable, and accurate as possible in every respect. That is why I’m concerned about the White House decision to select Robert Groves as director of the Census Bureau. As associate director of statistical design at the Census Bureau in the 1990s, Mr. Groves reportedly advocated a scheme to use computer analysis to manipulate Census data, rather than simply conducting an accurate count of the American people. That plan was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1999, but we will have to watch closely to ensure the 2010 census is conducted without attempting similar statistical sleight of hand.” [9]

"With the nomination of Robert Groves, President Obama has made clear that he intends to employ the political manipulation of census data for partisan gain," North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry cautioned.[10]

"This is an incredibly troubling selection that contradicts the administration’s assurances that the census process would not be used to advance an ulterior political agenda," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.[11]

Hope Yen says, "Census experts have said it would be difficult at this point to make plans for sampling in the 2010 census for congressional redistricting purposes since it is only a year away. It is more likely that Groves could have an impact on statistical adjustment and other decisions as part of long-term planning for census surveys after 2010." [12]

According to TIME, "Groves and his statistical models could still play a major role shaping the census of the future." [13]

Groves' Educational Background

Groves was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a college town. He obtained a bachelor's degree in sociology from Dartmouth College (1970), a master's in sociology and statistics from the University of Michigan (1973), and Ph.D from the same institution in Ph.D in sociology in 1975, where he then taught for 15 years before being appointed as an associate director of the 1990 Census. In 1992, Groves returned and taught at the University of Michigan for another 17 years, eventually heading the University of Michigan's Survey Research Center. His work has focused on "correcting" non-responsive errors in polling.[14]

Further reading


  1. See Timothy J. Alberta, "Census Nomination Reignites Debate Over How to Count Population," Wall Street Journal May 14, 2009