Voters Want Next President and Congress to Prioritize National Debt

Nov 29, 2016

Contact: Brian Bartlett
(202) 470-5340

The November 2016 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 60 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK — With the election concluded, the nation’s fiscal health remains a top concern for voters, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s November Fiscal Confidence Index, a monthly measure of public attitudes about the nation’s long-term debt and the efforts elected leaders are making to address America’s fiscal challenges. The Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 60 (100 is neutral), indicating voters of all political affiliations continue to share deep concerns about the issue and want the next president and Congress to make the nation’s fiscal health a top priority.

Following the election, voters across the political spectrum want to see the national debt addressed in Washington. Fully three-quarters (75%) agree that the national debt should be a top-three priority for the president and Congress, including clear majorities of Democrats (65%), Independents (71%), and Republicans (90%). The index moved slightly in a positive direction this month following the election, due in part to a significant increase in the expectations of Republicans that progress will be made on the national debt in the next few years.

“With a hard-fought election season behind us, voters of both parties remain seriously concerned about the nation’s fiscal future, and are calling on our newly-elected leaders to take action,” said Michael A. Peterson, President and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. “Americans understand that our fiscal challenges are serious, and are looking to their incoming leaders to put forward plans to stabilize the nation’s long-term debt and secure a growing economy.”

The Fiscal Confidence Index measures public opinion about the national debt by asking six questions in three key areas:

  • CONCERN: Level of concern and views about the direction of the national debt.
  • PRIORITY: How high a priority addressing the debt should be for elected leaders.
  • EXPECTATIONS: Expectations about whether the debt situation will get better or worse in the next few years.

The survey results from these three areas are weighted equally and averaged to produce the Fiscal Confidence Index value. The Fiscal Confidence Index, like the Consumer Confidence Index, is indexed on a scale of 0 to 200, with a neutral midpoint of 100. A reading above 100 indicates positive sentiment. A reading below 100 indicates negative sentiment.

Fiscal Confidence Index Key Data Points:

  • The November 2016 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 60. (The October value was 52 and the September value was 51.)
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 50, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 30, indicating that Americans want elected leaders to make addressing long-term debt a high priority. The score for EXPECTATIONS about progress on the debt is 99. The Fiscal Confidence Index is the average of these three sub-category scores.
  • For a description of the complete methodology, see the Appendix below.

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation commissioned a poll by the Global Strategy Group and North Star Opinion Research to survey public opinion on the national debt. The nationwide poll included 1,003 U.S. registered voters, surveyed by telephone between November 17 and November 21, 2016. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%. The poll examined voters’ opinions on the national debt, political leadership, and America’s fiscal and economic health.

Detailed poll results can be found online at:

About the Peter G. Peterson Foundation

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the nature and urgency of key fiscal challenges threatening America's future, and to accelerating action on them. To address these challenges successfully, we work to bring Americans together to find and implement sensible, long-term solutions that transcend age, party lines and ideological divides in order to achieve real results. To learn more, please visit

APPENDIX: Fiscal Confidence Index Methodology and Questions

  • The Fiscal Confidence Index is released monthly by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.
  • The Fiscal Confidence Index value is based on six questions in three categories.
  • As is done with the Consumer Confidence Index, the first step in calculating the Fiscal Confidence Index is determining the “Relative Value” for each question. This calculation is made by taking the positive response for each question and dividing it by the sum of the positive and negative responses. Each question was asked on a four-point scale, and answers were weighted according to intensity, with the strongest responses counting twice as much as the middle responses (“much” better or worse answers count twice as heavily as “somewhat” better or worse answers).
  • The scores for the Concern, Priority, and Expectations categories are determined by averaging the scores derived from the two questions in each category.
  • The Fiscal Confidence Index value is converted from the Relative Value to place it on a scale on which 100 indicates equal positive and negative sentiment, while values below 100 indicate negative sentiment and values above 100 indicate positive sentiment.
  • The questions are as follows:


Thinking about our national debt over the last few years, would you say your level of concern has increased or decreased?
◊ Is that a lot or just a little?
November 2016 October 2016 September 2016
Increased a lot 41% 46% 47%
Increased a little 22% 20% 19%
Decreased a little 13% 12% 10%
Decreased a lot 5% 5% 5%
(No change) 17% 15% 15%
(Don't Know/Refused) 2% 2% 3%
INCREASED (NET) 63% 66% 66%
DECREASED (NET) 19% 17% 15%
When it comes to addressing our national debt, would you say things in the United States are heading in the right direction or do you think things are off on the wrong track?
◊ Do you feel that way strongly or just somewhat?
November 2016 October 2016 September 2016
Right direction-Strongly 11% 12% 10%
Right direction-Somewhat 19% 17% 14%
Wrong track-Somewhat 17% 14% 14%
Wrong track-Strongly 37% 44% 49%
(Neither/Mixed) 8% 6% 7%
(Don't Know/Refused) 8% 6% 6%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 54% 59% 63%
Some people say that addressing the national debt should be among the president and Congress' top 3 priorities. Do you agree or disagree?
◊ Do you feel that way strongly or just somewhat?
November 2016 October 2016 September 2016
Strongly agree 48% 60% 52%
Somewhat agree 27% 21% 22%
Somewhat disagree 12% 9% 12%
Strongly disagree 8% 7% 9%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 3% 5%
AGREE (NET) 75% 81% 75%
DISAGREE (NET) 21% 15% 20%
And when it comes to our national debt, do you think it is an issue that the president and Congress should spend more time addressing or less time addressing?
◊ Would you say a lot (more or less) time or just a little?
November 2016 October 2016 September 2016
A lot more time 54% 62% 59%
A little more time 24% 23% 22%
A little less time 6% 5% 8%
A lot less time 5% 3% 3%
(The same amount of time) 6% 5% 3%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 3% 5%
MORE TIME (NET) 78% 85% 81%
LESS TIME (NET) 11% 7% 11%
And thinking about our national debt over the next few years, do you expect the problem to get better or worse?
◊ Is that much (better or worse) or just somewhat (better or worse)?
November 2016 October 2016 September 2016
Much better 15% 8% 7%
Somewhat better 24% 19% 18%
Somewhat worse 19% 21% 25%
Much worse 28% 24% 22%
(No change) 5% 7% 6%
(Don't know/Refused) 9% 21% 22%
BETTER (NET) 39% 27% 25%
WORSE (NET) 47% 45% 47%
And when it comes to our national debt, are you optimistic or pessimistic that the United States will be able to make progress on our national debt over the next few years?
◊ Would you say you are very (optimistic or pessimistic) or just somewhat?
November 2016 October 2016 September 2016
Very optimistic 25% 23% 19%
Somewhat optimistic 30% 30% 27%
Somewhat pessimistic 17% 13% 15%
Very pessimistic 21% 20% 21%
(Neither/Mixed) 3% 6% 6%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 8% 12%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 55% 53% 46%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 38% 33% 36%

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