(Forbes) – While Donald Trump dominated last week’s GOP debate, two of the GOP candidates tried to talk seriously about Social Security’s future. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie mentioned his 12-point entitlement reform plan and chided the other candidates for being vague about their own approaches. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee argued that his FairTax plan can solve Social Security’s long-term problems. I’m not going to arbitrate that debate, but it is worth asking how receptive the public is to altering Social Security, which Franklin Roosevelt signed into law 80 years ago Friday. Democrats, including Hillary Clinton this week, are moving in a very different direction from the GOP, advocating increases in benefits, raising the cost of living adjustment and the cap on income subject to Social Security payroll taxes.
It hardly bears repeating, but Social Security is one of the most popular government programs, if not the most popular one. Eighty-three percent told the Kaiser Family Foundation this past spring that Social Security was a very important program, ranking it ahead of Medicare, federal aid to public schools, defense spending, loans to college students, Medicaid, and foreign aid. Nor do Americans have a sense of urgency about addressing its sustainability. In a May 2015 George Washington University Battleground poll, just 4 percent said Social Security was the most important problem for the next president. Americans tend to focus on the here and now, and it’s hard to get their attention for long-term problems, whether they involve Social Security’s funding or climate change.