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Surveying the Very Wealthy: Challenges and Considerations in Targeted List Design and Composition
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*Ned English, NORC at the University of Chicago 
Steven Pedlow, NORC at the University of Chicago 
Catherine Haggerty, NORC at the University of Chicago 
Benjamin I Page, Northwestern University 
Jason Seawright, Northwestern University 

Keywords: targeted lists, income, rare population, politics

The Survey of Economically Successful Americans (SESA), funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, is designed to help understand the influence of exceptionally wealthy individuals on the American political process. The SESA pilot study had the goal of conducting 50 in-person interviews with households with at least $40 million in net worth, representing the top 1/10 of 1% of wealth-holders in the USA. A fundamental challenge surrounding the SESA project was the absence of a reliable singular list of very wealthy people containing enough information to enable area stratification or household-level targeting. For example, Census-provided local data are both too coarse for sampling and limited in their value for stratification, and are based solely on income rather than wealth. We created our own specialized list from a number of different market-research sources: household-level data with wealth strata as well as income-producing assets supplemented by a list of business executives, including firm size. Unfortunately, all of the available data were top-coded at a level too low for our needs. Our paper details our methodology to create a frame from which to find and interview this rarely studied population, e.g. extremely wealthy people. In addition, we discuss the kinds of households interviewed from the different sample sources during the pilot phase. Our research is valuable to those who seek to identify a similar rare population whose universe is not publicly available through government or market-research sources.

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