As Leaders in Washington Add to the National Debt, Voter Concern about America’s Fiscal Health Rises

Jul 30, 2019

Contact: Jeremy Rosen
jrosen@pgpf.org

The July 2019 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 52 (100 is neutral)

NEW YORK (July 30, 2019) — While Congress and the President move forward on a budget deal that will add $1.7 trillion to the debt over the next 10 years, voters across party lines are increasingly concerned about the nation’s finances, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s monthly Fiscal Confidence Index. July Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 52 (100 is neutral), indicating that voters want their leaders to manage the debt and place the nation on a stronger, more sustainable course.

More than four in five (83%) Americans want their leaders to spend more time addressing the national debt, including 85% of Democrats, 82% of Republicans and 81% of independents.

A majority of Americans (56%) say that efforts to address the national debt are on the wrong track, rather than heading in the right direction (33%). That concern is equally high among the youngest and oldest groups (57% of both 18 to 34 year olds and those 65 and older). Sixty-two percent of voters say their level of concern about the national debt has increased over the last few years, including 41% who say their concern has increased “a lot.”

“The vast majority of voters across party lines are urging lawmakers to stop piling on to our already high national debt,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “Americans want policymakers to regain control of the budget, manage the debt, and invest to build a better future for the country. There are no shortage of options to start tackling the problem now, while the economy is strong.”

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 July 2019 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 52. (The June value was 53, and the May value was 51.)
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 51, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 24, 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 81. 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 1,002 U.S. registered voters, surveyed by telephone between July 22, 2019 and July 25, 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 (51)
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?
July 2019 June 2019 May 2019
Increased a lot 41% 37% 36%
Increased a little 21% 24% 24%
Decreased a little 11% 10% 11%
Decreased a lot 6% 8% 7%
(No change) 19% 20% 20%
(Don't Know/Refused) 2% 2% 1%
INCREASED (NET) 62% 60% 60%
DECREASED (NET) 17% 18% 18%
 
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?
July 2019 June 2019 May 2019
Right direction-Strongly 15% 16% 14%
Right direction-Somewhat 18% 16% 16%
Wrong track-Somewhat 16% 17% 17%
Wrong track-Strongly 40% 39% 39%
(Neither/Mixed) 6% 6% 9%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 6% 5%
RIGHT DIRECTION (NET) 33% 32% 30%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 56% 56% 56%
PRIORITY (24)
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?
July 2019 June 2019 May 2019
Strongly agree 42% 44% 45%
Somewhat agree 32% 38% 30%
Somewhat disagree 13% 13% 14%
Strongly disagree 8% 7% 8%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 7% 3%
AGREE (NET) 74% 73% 75%
DISAGREE (NET) 20% 20% 22%
 
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?
July 2019 June 2019 May 2019
A lot more time 58% 58% 53%
A little more time 24% 22% 29%
A little less time 3% 6% 7%
A lot less time 2% 2% 3%
(The same amount of time) 7% 8% 6%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 5% 4%
MORE TIME (NET) 83% 80% 82%
LESS TIME (NET) 5% 8% 9%
EXPECTATIONS (81)
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)?
July 2019 June 2019 May 2019
Much better 11% 10% 10%
Somewhat better 16% 15% 16%
Somewhat worse 26% 28% 31%
Much worse 33% 33% 32%
(No change) 5% 6% 6%
(Don't know/Refused) 9% 8% 6%
BETTER (NET) 27% 25% 26%
WORSE (NET) 59% 61% 63%
 
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?
July 2019 June 2019 May 2019
Very optimistic 21% 19% 18%
Somewhat optimistic 28% 29% 26%
Somewhat pessimistic 19% 19% 21%
Very pessimistic 23% 24% 26%
(Neither/Mixed) 3% 5% 5%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 4% 4%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 50% 40% 44%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 42% 43% 47%

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