As America Enters Era of Trillion-Dollar Deficits, Voters Want Action on the Debt

Jan 31, 2020

Contact: Jeremy Rosen

The January 2020 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 47 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (January 31, 2020) — As the country enters an era of trillion-dollar annual deficits, Americans hold deep concerns about the national debt, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s monthly Fiscal Confidence Index. The January Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 47 (100 is neutral), indicating that voters want their leaders to prioritize progress on the nation’s fiscal challenges.

A report earlier this week from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that the deficit will exceed $1 trillion this year, and stay above that mark for the foreseeable future. This month’s Fiscal Confidence Index shows that voters hold deep concerns about our nation’s deteriorating fiscal condition, with a majority saying our country is on the wrong track in addressing the debt, and that they believe the debt will get worse. Voters across the political spectrum agree that addressing the debt should be among the top three priorities for the president and Congress, including 75% of Democrats, 79% of independents and 82% of Republicans.

“As the 2020 election begins, Americans are looking for leadership and solutions to our growing debt problem,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “America has many pressing needs, but incurring trillion-dollar deficits will only make it more difficult for us to invest in our own future. The federal government is already spending a staggering $1 billion per day on interest costs, which does nothing to solve the important challenges we face as a nation. There’s no better time than this campaign season for a conversation between candidates and voters about ways to manage the debt and build economic growth and opportunity for the next generation.”

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 2020 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 47. (The December value was 45. The November value was 45.)
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 46, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 17, 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 79. 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 1,013 registered voters nationwide, surveyed between January 20, 2020 and January 23, 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:

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 2020 December 2019 November 2019
Increased a lot 39% 42% 43%
Increased a little 36% 30% 31%
Decreased a little 7% 9% 9%
Decreased a lot 4% 5% 4%
(No change) 8% 9% 10%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 5% 4%
INCREASED (NET) 75% 72% 74%
DECREASED (NET) 11% 13% 13%
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 2020 December 2019 November 2019
Right direction-Strongly 14% 13% 12%
Right direction-Somewhat 21% 22% 22%
Wrong track-Somewhat 24% 26% 29%
Wrong track-Strongly 34% 34% 33%
(Neither/Mixed) 1% 1% 1%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 5% 4%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 58% 60% 62%
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 2020 December 2019 November 2019
Strongly agree 50% 52% 50%
Somewhat agree 28% 25% 26%
Somewhat disagree 12% 12% 14%
Strongly disagree 2% 3% 3%
(Don't Know/Refused) 7% 8% 7%
AGREE (NET) 78% 77% 76%
DISAGREE (NET) 15% 15% 17%
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 2020 December 2019 November 2019
A lot more time 52% 49% 48%
A little more time 33% 32% 36%
A little less time 4% 6% 6%
A lot less time 2% 4% 4%
(The same amount of time) 2% 2% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 7% 6% 5%
MORE TIME (NET) 85% 81% 84%
LESS TIME (NET) 6% 10% 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)?
January 2020 December 2019 November 2019
Much better 11% 8% 8%
Somewhat better 22% 17% 18%
Somewhat worse 27% 34% 31%
Much worse 29% 31% 34%
(No change) 2% 3% 2%
(Don't know/Refused) 8% 7% 7%
BETTER (NET) 34% 25% 25%
WORSE (NET) 56% 65% 65%
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 2020 December 2019 November 2019
Very optimistic 9% 8% 7%
Somewhat optimistic 35% 31% 34%
Somewhat pessimistic 31% 35% 35%
Very pessimistic 17% 18% 17%
(Neither/Mixed) 3% 2% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 6% 5%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 44% 39% 41%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 48% 54% 52%

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