Changes to Social Security are on the horizon because the trust funds that support the massive retirement and disability program are projected to run dry in 2033. At that point, Social Security would only collect enough taxes to pay about three-fourths of benefits. If Congress doesn't act, benefits automatically would be cut by about 25 percent.
A new round of budget talks underway in Washington could produce proposals to change Social Security.
In previous budget talks, President Barack Obama has proposed adopting the chained CPI, making it one of the few issues on which he and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, agree. Other groups, including Obama's 2010 deficit commission, have proposed raising the age when retirees can get full Social Security benefits.
Among older Americans, the poll found the most popular idea for improving the program's finances was raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes. Currently, the cap is $113,700, meaning those earning more do not pay Social Security taxes on wages above that threshold.
Some 61 percent of people favored raising the cap, compared with 25 percent opposing it. Among Democrats, support was at 73 percent; among Republicans, it was 45 percent.
"If the rich get richer, they should pay," said Rhonda Rossi, 56, of South Bend, Ind. "If they're multimillionaires, they don't need Social Security. They could live off their interest."
Rossi collects Social Security disability benefits of about $950 a month due to kidney failure. Even with that, she struggles to have enough to buy groceries at the end of the month. She says any talk of reducing benefits makes her nervous.
"I got sick and if I didn't have the Social Security, I don't know how I would live, I really don't. I'm struggling as it is now," she said. The politicians don't live day by day like I do."
The AP-NORC Center survey was conducted Aug. 8 through Sept. 10 by NORC at the University of Chicago, with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It involved landline and cellphone interviews in English and Spanish with 1,024 people aged 50 and older nationwide. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.