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Public Opinions on Social Security

Over the years, polls have consistently shown that the American public strongly supports Social Security, across party and demographic lines.

In January 2013, NASI released Strengthening Social Security: What Do Americans Want?, a groundbreaking public opinion study focusing on Americans’ attitudes about Social Security and preferences for strengthening the program for the future. The report found that Americans overwhelmingly support Social Security and are willing to pay more to preserve and even improve benefits. In 2014, the Academy released an update this survey, Americans Make Hard Choices on Social Security: A Survey with Trade-Off Analysis, the findings of which are presented below.

With more than 59 million people receiving Social Security benefits, Americans recognize that Social Security is a critical program. Large majorities of Americans say they don’t mind paying Social Security taxes because of the security and stability the benefits provide to millions of retired Americans, disabled individuals, and children and widowed spouses of deceased workers. These findings hold true across party lines (those agreeing include 87% of Democrats, 81% of Independents, and 72% of Republicans). Americans are also willing to pay for Social Security because they value it for themselves (73%) and their families (73%).

Table 1 - Willingness to Pay for Social Security
Please tell me if you agree, or disagree with the statements.  “I don’t mind paying Social Security taxes because ... "
Reason I don’t mind paying
Social Security taxes
Percent Agree
Percent Strongly Agree
I know that I will be receiving benefits when I retire
73%
39%
I know I would have to help support my parents, grandparents, or other family members if they did not receive Social Security
73
32
It provides security and stability to millions of retired Americans, disabled individuals, and the children and widowed spouses of deceased workers
81
36

Nearly nine in ten Americans (85%) say Social Security is more important than ever to ensure that retirees have a dependable income. These views cut across age and income lines: those agreeing include 81% of Americans in Generation X and 92% of those in the Early Boomers or prior generations, as well as 88% of people with family incomes under $30,000, 89% of those earning between $50,000 and $75,000, and 78% of those earning over $100,000.

Moreover, Americans are willing to pay more to keep Social Security strong. About 8 in 10 (77%) say it is critical to preserve Social Security even if it means increasing the Social Security taxes paid by working Americans. An even higher percentage (83%) say it is critical to preserve Social Security even if it means increasing the Social Security taxes paid by wealthy Americans. These findings hold true across party lines, age groups, race and ethnicity, and income levels.

What sets this study apart from others is its use of trade-off analysis, a technique widely used in market research to learn which product features customers want. Survey participants chose which package of Social Security policy changes they prefer and are willing to pay for, considering various combinations of 12 changes, including raising taxes, lowering benefits, and increasing benefits.

Seven in ten Americans prefer a package of policy changes that increases Social Security revenues in two ways and improves benefits in two ways. Support for this package cuts across political parties, age groups, income levels, and race and ethnicity.

Jasmine V. Tucker, Income Security Senior Policy Analyst at NASI and a co-author of the report, concluded:

“At a time when Americans seem deeply divided about the right size and role of government, it is striking that Americans across political and generational lines agree on specific policies to pay for and improve Social Security benefits.”

For more information, see:

Read what some NASI members think:*

* The views of NASI members are their own and not an official position of the National Academy of Social Insurance or its funders.