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Designing a survey that can reliably produce accurate and unbiased results long has been one of the great challenges in academic study. Poor practices can produce too small a sample or too homogenous a field of respondents – and either can doom a survey before a single question can be asked. This is where the Understanding America Study (UAS) at the University of Southern California (USC) can help.

The UAS is a panel of American households, numbering roughly 6,000 individuals and growing, recruited for their demographic diversity. UAS respondents answer researchers’ queries once to twice a month via an online interface that is technologically powerful yet friendly for the respondents and quick to deliver results. At this time the UAS only includes adults aged 18 and over. It is not possible to volunteer, as people around the country are randomly selected using postal codes. The majority of the panel members have their own online access, while those who don’t have been provided, by USC, a tablet and/or an Internet subscription.

The surveys – commissioned by USC clients, international universities and other government researchers – make inquiries into decision making, social and economic policy and health. The UAS also is used for methodological experiments. Researchers around the world sketch out the surveys; then the UAS team at the Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research designs them and ensures their rigor through testing before sending them to the panel respondents.