National Debt Remains Top Concern As New President and Congress Take Office

Jan 31, 2017

Contact: Brian Bartlett
(202) 470-5340

Voters Have Increased Expectations for Action to Improve Fiscal Outlook

The January 2017 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 67 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK — In the early days of a new administration and Congress, voters have increased expectations for elected leaders to take action on our national debt, and remain deeply concerned about our fiscal outlook, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s January 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 67 (100 is neutral), indicating that voters prioritize the national debt as a key issue and are looking for policymakers to put our nation on a more sustainable fiscal path.

Voters are clear that they want fiscal responsibility to be a high priority as their leaders in Washington put forward proposals in areas including healthcare, tax reform, and infrastructure investment. Nearly three-quarters of voters (74%) agree the national debt should be a top-three priority for the country, including two-thirds (67%) of Democrats and 87% of Republicans. Americans also want to see the issue elevated in the administration’s early agenda, with four in five voters (80%), including three-quarters of Democrats (75%) and 86% of Republicans, believing that the president and Congress should spend more time addressing the issue.

Driven by a change in sentiment of Republican voters, Americans overall are now more evenly split on whether the country is on the right direction or wrong track on addressing the debt (37% right direction/41% wrong track in January, compared to 29%/52% in December). Republicans are 20 points more likely this month to believe the country is moving in the right direction in addressing the debt (61%) than in December (41%). Overall the debt remains a top issue of concern to both parties.

“Voters hope and expect that our new president and Congress will prioritize fiscal responsibility as a necessary component of the policy agenda,” said Michael A. Peterson, President and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. “Whether it’s healthcare, tax reform, or infrastructure, reforms can be made in a way that improves our nation’s fiscal condition and puts the country on a more sustainable path. Americans understand that the national debt is the one issue that affects all others, so they are calling on their leaders to ensure we have a sound fiscal foundation to support economic growth.”

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 January 2017 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 67. (The December value was 60 and the November value was 60.)
  •  The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 64, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 29, 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 109. 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 1,004 U.S. registered voters, surveyed by telephone between January 23 and January 26, 2017. 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?
January 2017 December 2016 November 2016
Increased a lot 40% 39% 41%
Increased a little 23% 26% 22%
Decreased a little 10% 12% 13%
Decreased a lot 8% 4% 5%
(No change) 19% 17% 17%
(Don't Know/Refused) 2% 2% 2%
INCREASED (NET) 62% 65% 63%
DECREASED (NET) 17% 17% 19%
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?
January 2017 December 2016 November 2016
Right direction-Strongly 15% 11% 11%
Right direction-Somewhat 22% 19% 19%
Wrong track-Somewhat 17% 19% 17%
Wrong track-Strongly 24% 33% 37%
(Neither/Mixed) 13% 13% 8%
(Don't Know/Refused) 10% 6% 8%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 41% 52% 54%
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?
January 2017 December 2016 November 2016
Strongly agree 47% 49% 48%
Somewhat agree 27% 28% 27%
Somewhat disagree 12% 11% 12%
Strongly disagree 9% 9% 8%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 4% 5%
AGREE (NET) 74% 76% 75%
DISAGREE (NET) 21% 20% 21%
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?
January 2017 December 2016 November 2016
A lot more time 51% 51% 54%
A little more time 29% 29% 24%
A little less time 5% 5% 6%
A lot less time 4% 4% 5%
(The same amount of time) 5% 6% 6%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 4% 5%
MORE TIME (NET) 80% 81% 78%
LESS TIME (NET) 9% 9% 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)?
January 2017 December 2016 November 2016
Much better 13% 15% 15%
Somewhat better 31% 25% 24%
Somewhat worse 21% 22% 19%
Much worse 24% 24% 28%
(No change) 4% 6% 5%
(Don't know/Refused) 7% 8% 9%
BETTER (NET) 44% 41% 39%
WORSE (NET) 45% 46% 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?
January 2017 December 2016 November 2016
Very optimistic 26% 25% 25%
Somewhat optimistic 33% 28% 30%
Somewhat pessimistic 16% 18% 17%
Very pessimistic 16% 19% 21%
(Neither/Mixed) 5% 6% 3%
(Don't Know/Refused) 3% 4% 4%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 59% 54% 55%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 32% 37% 38%

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