As National Debt Races Past $23 Trillion, Voters Want Washington to Take Action

Nov 26, 2019

Contact: Jeremy Rosen
jrosen@pgpf.org

The November 2019 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 45 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (November 26, 2019) — With the national debt surpassing $23 trillion for the first time, Americans remain highly concerned about the unsustainable fiscal outlook, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s monthly Fiscal Confidence Index. The November Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 45 (100 is neutral), indicating that voters want their leaders to take action to manage the debt.

As the record debt continues to grow, more than eight in 10 voters (84%) say the president and Congress should spend more time focused on addressing the debt. Three in four voters (76%) want it to be a top-three priority for the president and Congress, including 72% of Democrats, 74% of independents and 84% of Republicans.

Nearly three quarters of Americans (74%) say their concern about the issue has increased over the past few years, and 62% believe the nation is on the wrong track.

“At $23 trillion and counting, the national debt is a major concern for the vast majority of Americans across party lines,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “Voters see our nation’s rising debt as a growing threat to America’s economy, our ability to address critical national priorities, and our quality of life. Citizens want leaders to set a stronger, smarter fiscal course for the 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 November 2019 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 45. (The October value was 54. The September value was 52.)
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 45, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 23, 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 66. 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 online poll included 1,000 registered voters nationwide, surveyed between November 18, 2019 and November 21, 2019. This is the first monthly survey conducted online; prior surveys were conducted telephonically. 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 (45)
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 2019 October 2019 September 2019
Increased a lot 43% 37% 39%
Increased a little 31% 22% 24%
Decreased a little 9% 11% 11%
Decreased a lot 4% 10% 6%
(No change) 10% 19% 18%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 2% 2%
INCREASED (NET) 74% 58% 63%
DECREASED (NET) 13% 21% 17%
 
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 2019 October 2019 September 2019
Right direction-Strongly 12% 16% 15%
Right direction-Somewhat 22% 16% 15%
Wrong track-Somewhat 22% 16% 15%
Wrong track-Strongly 33% 41% 40%
(Neither/Mixed) 1% 6% 7%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 5% 5%
RIGHT DIRECTION (NET) 34% 31% 30%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 62% 58% 58%
PRIORITY (23)
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 2019 October 2019 September 2019
Strongly agree 50% 46% 47%
Somewhat agree 26% 27% 28%
Somewhat disagree 14% 12% 11%
Strongly disagree 3% 8% 8%
(Don't Know/Refused) 7% 7% 5%
AGREE (NET) 76% 73% 75%
DISAGREE (NET) 17% 20% 19%
 
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 2019 October 2019 September 2019
A lot more time 48% 49% 54%
A little more time 36% 30% 26%
A little less time 6% 6% 4%
A lot less time 4% 4% 4%
(The same amount of time) 2% 7% 6%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 5% 3%
MORE TIME (NET) 84% 79% 79%
LESS TIME (NET) 10% 10% 11%
EXPECTATIONS (66)
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 2019 October 2019 September 2019
Much better 8% 9% 11%
Somewhat better 18% 17% 15%
Somewhat worse 31% 27% 27%
Much worse 34% 32% 34%
(No change) 2% 6% 5%
(Don't know/Refused) 7% 10% 7%
BETTER (NET) 25% 26% 26%
WORSE (NET) 65% 58% 61%
 
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 2019 October 2019 September 2019
Very optimistic 7% 16% 18%
Somewhat optimistic 34% 31% 29%
Somewhat pessimistic 35% 22% 24%
Very pessimistic 17% 21% 24%
(Neither/Mixed) 2% 5% 5%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 5% 4%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 41% 47% 47%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 52% 43% 44%

National Debt Clock

See the latest numbers and learn more about the causes of our high and rising debt.

FISCAL ISSUES ILLUSTRATED

This series of infographics helps put some of today's most pressing fiscal debates in context.