As National Debt Reaches $22 Trillion, Voters Are Deeply Concerned about America’s Fiscal Outlook

Feb 26, 2019

Contact: Jeremy Rosen
jrosen@pgpf.org

The February 2019 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 50 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (February 26, 2019) — As America marked the regrettable milestone of $22 trillion in national debt, Americans hold deep concerns about the country’s fiscal outlook, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s Fiscal Confidence Index. The February Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 50 (100 is neutral).

More than 7 in 10 Americans say the national debt should be a top-three priority for the President and Congress, including wide majorities of Democrats (71%), independents (76%), Republicans (73%), and those between 18 to 34 years of age (71%). Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) say their level of concern about the national debt has increased over the last few years, including three in five younger Americans (61%).

“The vast majority of Americans across party lines, including younger voters, are calling on the President and Congress to take action on our national debt,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “Key priorities for our future — from infrastructure to education to healthcare — are put at risk unless we begin to manage our debt. As we cross $22 trillion in national debt, lawmakers should hear this wake-up call loud and clear.”

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 February 2019 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 50. (The January value was 46, and the December 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 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 73. 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 this poll by the Global Strategy Group and North Star Opinion Research to survey public opinion on the national debt. The nationwide poll included 1,000 U.S. registered voters, surveyed by telephone between February 18, 2019 and February 21, 2019. 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: www.pgpf.org/FiscalConfidenceIndex.

About the Peter G. Peterson Foundation

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan 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 www.pgpf.org.

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:

 

CONCERN (49)
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?
February 2019 January 2019 December 2018
Increased a lot 40% 40% 40%
Increased a little 23% 24% 24%
Decreased a little 12% 10% 10%
Decreased a lot 5% 6% 6%
(No change) 18% 17% 18%
(Don't Know/Refused) 1% 2% 2%
INCREASED (NET) 64% 64% 64%
DECREASED (NET) 18% 17% 16%
 
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?
February 2019 January 2019 December 2018
Right direction-Strongly 16% 13% 16%
Right direction-Somewhat 14% 11% 15%
Wrong track-Somewhat 17% 18% 16%
Wrong track-Strongly 42% 45% 41%
(Neither/Mixed) 7% 8% 7%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 4% 5%
RIGHT DIRECTION (NET) 30% 24% 31%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 59% 64% 57%
PRIORITY (29)
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?
February 2019 January 2019 December 2018
Strongly agree 46% 48% 49%
Somewhat agree 27% 26% 29%
Somewhat disagree 14% 12% 11%
Strongly disagree 7% 8% 7%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 6% 4%
AGREE (NET) 74% 74% 78%
DISAGREE (NET) 21% 20% 18%
 
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?
February 2019 January 2019 December 2018
A lot more time 53% 58% 59%
A little more time 28% 24% 24%
A little less time 6% 5% 4%
A lot less time 4% 3% 4%
(The same amount of time) 6% 6% 5%
(Don't Know/Refused) 3% 4% 4%
MORE TIME (NET) 81% 82% 83%
LESS TIME (NET) 10% 7% 8%
EXPECTATIONS (73)
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)?
February 2019 January 2019 December 2018
Much better 9% 9% 10%
Somewhat better 16% 14% 16%
Somewhat worse 29% 29% 27%
Much worse 36% 38% 37%
(No change) 4% 4% 4%
(Don't know/Refused) 6% 5% 6%
BETTER (NET) 25% 23% 26%
WORSE (NET) 65% 67% 64%
 
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?
February 2019 January 2019 December 2018
Very optimistic 18% 17% 18%
Somewhat optimistic 28% 26% 32%
Somewhat pessimistic 20% 19% 20%
Very pessimistic 26% 29% 25%
(Neither/Mixed) 4% 4% 3%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 4% 3%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 47% 44% 50%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 46% 48% 44%

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