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Social Security 70th Anniversary Survey Report: Trends Over Time

The latest assessment of Social Security by the American public continues to reflect the strong support that has also characterized two earlier assessments. All three AARP surveys—conducted to celebrate the 50th (1985), 60th (1995) and 70th (2005) anniversaries of Social Security’s founding—have demonstrated the high regard that the American public has for Social Security as an important American institution, not only for America’s retired citizens, but for the entire American adult population.

The current survey report addresses the importance of Social Security over time, the public’s perception of the program, as well as public expectations in this time of rising debate on the future of the program. A total of 1,200 adults 18 and over were surveyed nationally via telephone.

No specific policy questions were asked in any of the surveys. All three surveys focused, rather, on basic attitudes about Social Security and how these attitudes have or have not changed over time. The purpose of this research is not to test policy options; it is to explore values and attitudes that shape public reaction to proposed changes in policy. Thus, the findings of the present survey may shed some light on the present Social Security policy discussion.

Given the prominence of Social Security reform as the leading domestic political issue in 2005—largely resulting from President Bush’s proposal to institute voluntary personal or private accounts financed out of Social Security funds—the question arises as to how much change this has made in Americans’ basic attitudes about Social Security. Certainly, critics have argued that such private-account proposals represent a significant departure in philosophy from the traditional Social Security program.

The issues around the current Social Security reform debate furnished the backdrop of the latest AARP anniversary survey.

AARP commissioned GFK-NOP, a survey research firm, to conduct the national random digit dial telephone survey. The report was written by AARP Knowledge Management. For more information, please contact Nancy Thompson, 202-434-2667 or nthompson@aarp.org. (26 pages)

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