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Given Social Security’s financial challenges, reforms to support the program will be necessary in the coming years. Effective reforms will require that the wishes of the public be incorporated. And while major polling organizations have found Americans’ views on Social Security to be generally positive over the years, the lack of comprehensive, comparable survey data has hindered the ability to examine these perceptions, particularly across time.

This report investigates those perceptions using General Social Survey data from 1984 through 2021. It finds that, broadly consistent with other polling, Social Security has been and continues to be viewed favorably, enjoying widespread popularity across many socioeconomic and political groups.

The General Social Survey (GSS) is a nationally representative survey of adults in the United States conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. In addition to its core collection of demographic, behavioral, and attitudinal questions, GSS collects public opinion data on national spending priorities in a variety of areas, including Social Security. Questions specifically related to Social Security first appeared in the survey in 1984 and have been in every annual or biennial survey since, covering 23 of 37 years through 2021.

Over a period spanning almost four decades, at least 90 percent of GSS respondents believed either too little or about the right amount was being spent on Social Security; at no time did more than 10 percent state that too much was spent on the program. Further, outside of a brief period in the mid-1990s, more than half stated too little was spent on Social Security during all other times.

This report contains tables and discussions of public opinion on Social Security in the following categories:

  • Views of Social Security spending by age, race and ethnicity, and education
  • Political views and Social Security
  • Social class, relative financial position, and Social Security

Across a wide range of sociodemographic characteristics—most notably age and race—as well as economic status and political views, most Americans place a high priority on Social Security. Protecting and strengthening Social Security to meet the needs of future generations makes the public’s views about program spending and benefits all the more relevant.