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National Science Foundation
Social Life
OverviewHow to Trust a SurveyScience & EngineeringIncome DynamicsSocial LifePolitical PulseQuestionable FutureClassroom Resources
image of a mock GSS Newspaper

Data from the General Social Survey (GSS) track people's views on social issues. These "headlines" in a mock GSS newspaper represent some of the survey findings.

Credit (clockwise from top left): Thinkstock, Getty Images; Ken Hammond, USDA; Ecohydraulics Research Group, University of Idaho; U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Design by Alex Jeon, National Science Foundation

Social Life

Survey Example

Here is an example of a series of survey questions on a single topic.

  • Would you favor or oppose a law that would require a person to obtain a police permit before he or she could buy a gun?
  • How important is the gun control issue to you—would you say it is one of the most important, important, not very important, or not important at all?
  • How much information do you have about the gun control issue? Do you have all the information you need, most of the information, some information, or very little information?
  • How firm are you about your opinion on gun control—would you say you are very likely to change your opinion, somewhat likely to change, somewhat unlikely to change, or very unlikely to change?

See all the questions and associated data on the GSS Web site.

What are our national spending priorities? What do we know about computer and Internet usage, civil liberties, crime and violence, inter-group tolerance, morality, psychological well-being, confidence in institutions, memberships in voluntary institutions, social mobility and stress and traumatic events?

Decades of Data

Since 1972, the General Social Survey (GSS) has conducted 90-minute personal interviews to probe people’s views about these and other topics. The survey has been conducted biennially since 1994, and 3,000 people participate in each one. The GSS aims to:

  • gather data on contemporary society in order to monitor and explain trends and constants in attitudes, behavior and attributes
  • examine the structure and function of groups, large and small
  • compare U.S. society with other societies
  • make high-quality data available to scholars, students, policymakers and others

Education Role

Researchers can pool data on subgroups to study them over time.

Each year, more than a quarter of a million college students learn survey techniques and statistical analysis using GSS data. For example, students in statistics classes have examined two variables together-such as religion and political party affiliation-to see if a strong correlation exists.

International Contributions

The GSS also collects cross-national data as part of the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), established in 1984 by social science institutes in the U.S., Australia, Great Britain and West Germany. The ISSP collaboration now includes 39 nations and is the largest program of cross-national research in the social sciences. Some of the topics covered by recent annual ISSP modules include work orientation, religion, social inequality, the environment, social support and networks, women, work and family, national identity and citizenship. For more information on the ISSP, visit the program's Web site at http://www.issp.org.

The GSS—described as a national resource by some—is NSF’s largest sociology project. It has been used in over 9,000 research projects and is frequently cited by the press on various topics. The GSS and its principal investigators have received awards from the American Association for Public Opinion Research, sociological associations, the World Association for Public Opinion Research and American Demographics and Science magazines.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Surveys: Tracking Opinion Special Report