Majority Favors Private Accounts for Social Security, Cato/Zogby Poll Says

Published March 1, 2005

A majority of Americans believe younger workers should be allowed to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in individual accounts, according to a new poll conducted by Zogby International for the Cato Institute.

Despite a drumbeat of criticism for weeks by congressional Democrats and a concerted public relations campaign by powerful interest groups such as the AARP against Social Security choice, 51 percent of those polled by Zogby supported the introduction of individual accounts. Only 39 percent opposed individual accounts being part of any Social Security reform.

Age Groups Split Predictably

Not surprisingly, the results showed a split along age lines. Younger voters were strongly in favor of individual accounts, which garnered the support of 61 percent of respondents under age 30 and 58 percent of those under 50. Most respondents over 65–55 percent–were opposed.

However, opposition by seniors dropped to just 45 percent if they were assured their own benefits would not be affected.

Reflecting the sharp partisan divide nationally, opinions about individual accounts also split along political lines.


Republicans were overwhelmingly united behind the reform proposal, which is a priority of President George W. Bush’s second-term agenda. Seventy-four percent of respondents identifying themselves as Republican said they support individual accounts, while only 14 percent opposed them. Most Democrats remain opposed, with 61 percent saying they are against individual accounts.

However, a strong minority among Democrats (more than 30 percent) said they favor individual accounts.

Independents polled leaned toward individual accounts, 45 percent to 40 percent, with a high proportion undecided.

While few voters (14 percent) agreed with Bush that Social Security was in “crisis,” an overwhelming majority (61 percent) said the New Deal-era system was facing “serious problems” that required “major changes.” Few voters (5 percent) accepted the notion that Social Security is fine or could be fixed with only “minor, incremental changes” (19 percent).

Current System Considered Risky

When asked whether they believed private investing or the current Social Security system is riskier, voters split nearly evenly. Roughly 41 percent thought private investment is riskier because benefits could go down depending on how investments perform.

But slightly more (44 percent) thought the current Social Security system was riskier “because it cannot pay all the benefits promised.” Again, voters split by age, with young people believing Social Security is riskier (52 to 39 percent) and seniors believing private investment is riskier (46 to 31 percent).

Voters were also supportive of another proposal rumored to be part of a Bush Social Security plan. By a 61 to 23 percent margin, voters backed a proposal to hold future benefit growth to the rate of inflation.

The poll of 1,004 likely voters was conducted in mid-January and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent.

Michael Tanner ([email protected]) is director of the Project on Social Security Choice at the Cato Institute.