I started this blog post shortly after writing Let’s scrap the long-form census!, but have only recently finished it. No, this is not about “drafting” or conscripting people to fill out long-form versions of the census. It’s about the draft form of a census; that is, how a long-form census is born and its future relevance.
When a census is being drafted, questions are, at least in theory, carefully chosen in part based on their ability to answer questions deemed to be of importance; some questions may not “make the cut” due to a variety of reasons. While questions that do not make it into the census forms that are distributed obviously provide no immediate benefit to those collecting the data, the unanswered questions asked are still of value. Knowing what questions were considered and why they were rejected could be just as important to future historians as the answers are to those that sought an answer.
These records could provide them with insight into the workings of contemporaneous society. What mattered to the people that created the census? Why were these questions considered important? Were answers to those questions eventually obtained in a later census and why were they able to be included later? Were issues considered politically or culturally sensitive being discussed more openly? Even if our long-form census’s validity is hampered due to switching to a voluntary response model, the census and its drafts themselves could prove to be a gold mine.