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The Great Divide: Elite and Mass Opinion about Social Security (WP-13-23)

Fay Lomax Cook, Rachel Moskowitz

Often called “the third rail of American politics,” Social Security was once seen as untouchable. This paper shows that this political wisdom has changed and uses the theoretical framework of competitive counterframing to describe the breakdown in consensus among elites during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama presidential administrations. Has this breakdown in consensus at the elite level weakened the longstanding support of the public? And has the increasing economic inequality between the wealthy in the U.S. and the less affluent been translated into distinctive policy preferences by income? Overall, the researchers find that the public at large remains supportive of Social Security, but the small, yet widening, gaps between the views of the affluent and low-income Americans bear watching carefully.

 Fay Lomax Cook, Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Rachel Moskowitz, Graduate Research Assistant, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

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