The Understanding America Study asks its questions to (as of December 2017)) roughly 7,400 American households (8,900 respondents) – with the goal of eventually totaling 10,000. That sample size, combined with recruitment specifically targeting underrepresented demographics, creates a pool notable for its breadth and depth, both necessary for precise results.
Recruiting takes place via Address Based Sampling (ABS), in which postal records are used. Drawn from across the nation is a random sample, to which is sent a pre-notification letter. From 2014 through 2018, this was immediately followed by a recruitment package that included in introductory letter, the option to sign up online, and a paper survey (UAS Initial Recruitment Survey, v1). Beginning with the recruitment wave titled “MSG 2018-08 Nationally Representative Batch 9”, UAS changed to an online-first protocol. A revised version of the paper survey (UAS Initial Recruitment Survey, v2) was sent to non-responders as a second phase in the recruitment process. For those who respond to the paper survey, prospective members are asked if they want to join the UAS panel. If they express interest, they are contacted again and invited to regularly participate in online surveys.
Eligible individuals are all adults aged 18 and older in the contacted household. In this context, a household is broadly defined as anyone living together with the initial person who signed up to become a participant in the UAS. If a household is willing to participate but not in possession of Internet access and/or a computer or tablet, one is provided for their use during the study’s duration.
The UAS includes special-purpose samples of Native Americans and Los Angeles County families with young children. In the case of the former, ABS recruitment targets zip codes with a higher proportion of Native Americans; however, non-Native American primary respondents in these zip codes are not invited to join. For the latter, this sample is recruited using birth records information from the State of California, which gives addresses to households where children were born during the previous five years.
The UAS elicits demographic information, such as age, ethnicity, education, marital status, work status, state of residence, family structure, etc., on a regular basis through the My Household questionnaire. Specifically, respondents are required to provide or update their demographic information every quarter. Failure to answer the My Household questionnaire once it is due prevents respondents from participating in any other surveys until they do so.
When a research survey is ready for the field, UAS panelists receive an email or postcard inviting them to participate. Included is a one-sentence description of the survey, as well as an estimate of the time it should take to complete, a deadline (if there is one) and the pay they will receive for completion. Study members receive $20 for every 30 minutes of survey time. They are paid monthly via funds added to a prepaid card provided by the UAS. Study participants expect at least one survey each month and most welcome more.
At the end of each questionnaire, respondents are asked to rate their interest in the survey. Study members also participate in an annual survey measuring the performance of the UAS help desk and their overall experience in the study, including their preferred survey topics. Data from these surveys is available at no charge and only requires a data login. (Register here.)