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The 1% more likely to volunteer, care about politics, study finds

December 6, 2011 | 10:46 am

A common perception of the 1% has the wealthiest Americans living isolated from the rabble, more concerned with dusting off their top hats than helping the country.

A new report from Northwestern University begs to differ.

Compared to the general public, members of the moneyed minority are much more likely to volunteer their time and money in charitable causes and participate in politics, according to the “Survey of Economically Successful Americans and the Common Good.”

Researchers and professors from the university and the NORC research group at the University of Chicago compiled a random sample of 104 individuals from Chicago-area households with a median worth of $7.5 million.

Participants were interviewed in person or over the phone for at least 45 minutes, according to the report, which was funded by the Russell Sage Foundation.

Nine in 10 of the respondents said they volunteer, especially in areas such as education, poverty and the needy, private and community foundations and youth development. A typical member of the 1% donates about 4% of his or her income to charity, the report found. Those who inherited their wealth tend to give an even higher percentage. 

The affluent crowd is also far more likely than that average Joe to be interested in politics, the study said.

Half of 1%-ers said they have reached out to a member of Congress, a White House official or a federal regulatory agency official at least once the last six months, compared to the quarter of the general public that tried to contact an elected official in the last 12 months.

Nearly all of the well-heeled group said they voted in the last presidential election and 84% say they pay attention to politics most of the time. And 64% said they’ve contributed money to a political candidate within the last four years.

The rich also tend to skew conservative, preferring to solve public problems using free markets and private philanthropy over government intervention, according to researchers.

The 1% also generally supports cutting entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare rather than expanding them. They also back charter schools, merit pay systems and limited business regulations.

And instead of unemployment and jobs, more members of the group point toward the federal budget deficit as the country’s most pressing problem.

Researchers plan to eventually expand the survey to include the rest of the nation.


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-- Tiffany Hsu

Illustration by Wes Bausmith / Los Angeles Times