American Voters want the Administration and Congress to Address the National Debt

May 30, 2018

Contact: Jeremy Rosen

The May 2018 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 51 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (May 30, 2018) — Voters throughout the country and across party lines remain deeply concerned about the national debt, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s May Fiscal Confidence Index, a monthly measure of public attitudes about the national 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 51 (100 is neutral), indicating that Americans are calling on their elected leaders to take action to improve our fiscal outlook.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans say their level of concern about the issue has increased in recent years (65% increased/16% decreased), including clear majorities of Democrats (70% increased/12% decreased), independent voters (65% increased/14% decreased), and Republicans (60% increased/24% decreased).

Moreover, Americans broadly are calling on the President and Congress to act, with nearly four in five voters believing that lawmakers should devote more time to addressing the national debt (79% more time/10% less time), including 80% of Democrats, 80% of independent voters, and 76% of Republicans.

“Voters continue to be concerned about our rising national debt, and rightly so,” said Michael A. Peterson, Chairman and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. “Our nation is heading down a dangerous fiscal path, where the national debt eclipses the size of the entire American economy, and interest costs outpace investments in our children. Recent legislation has only made matters far worse. Our leaders must put America a more sustainable fiscal course for our collective future.”

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 May 2018 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 51. (The April value was 47 and the March value was 50.)
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 49, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 28, 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 76. 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 May 21, 2018 and May 24, 2018. 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?
May 2018 April 2018 March 2018
Increased a lot 42% 42% 43%
Increased a little 23% 24% 25%
Decreased a little 11% 8% 10%
Decreased a lot 5% 6% 4%
(No change) 16% 17% 15%
(Don't Know/Refused) 3% 2% 4%
INCREASED (NET) 65% 66% 68%
DECREASED (NET) 16% 14% 14%
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?
May 2018 April 2018 March 2018
Right direction-Strongly 15% 13% 14%
Right direction-Somewhat 16% 15% 15%
Wrong track-Somewhat 18% 19% 18%
Wrong track-Strongly 39% 42% 41%
(Neither/Mixed) 8% 7% 8%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 5% 5%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 57% 61% 58%
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?
May 2018 April 2018 March 2018
Strongly agree 48% 52% 46%
Somewhat agree 27% 27% 28%
Somewhat disagree 14% 10% 14%
Strongly disagree 6% 7% 7%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 5% 5%
AGREE (NET) 74% 78% 73%
DISAGREE (NET) 20% 16% 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?
May 2018 April 2018 March 2018
A lot more time 54% 58% 52%
A little more time 25% 23% 24%
A little less time 5% 4% 6%
A lot less time 6% 3% 4%
(The same amount of time) 6% 8% 7%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 5% 6%
MORE TIME (NET) 79% 81% 77%
LESS TIME (NET) 10% 6% 10%
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)?
May 2018 April 2018 March 2018
Much better 11% 10% 13%
Somewhat better 19% 16% 16%
Somewhat worse 24% 27% 26%
Much worse 37% 35% 34%
(No change) 5% 5% 5%
(Don't know/Refused) 5% 7% 6%
BETTER (NET) 29% 26% 29%
WORSE (NET) 61% 63% 60%
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?
May 2018 April 2018 March 2018
Very optimistic 20% 19% 21%
Somewhat optimistic 25% 25% 25%
Somewhat pessimistic 20% 21% 18%
Very pessimistic 26% 25% 27%
(Neither/Mixed) 5% 5% 4%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 4% 4%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 45% 45% 46%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 45% 45% 46%

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