With 2020 Election Underway, Voters Want More Progress on the National Debt

Feb 25, 2020

Contact: Jeremy Rosen

The February 2020 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 51

NEW YORK (February 25, 2020) — As the 2020 campaign gets underway and voters begin to make their voices heard in primary contests around the country, Americans are calling for more focus on the national debt, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s monthly Fiscal Confidence Index. The February Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 51 (100 is neutral), indicating that Americans are highly concerned about the nation’s fiscal condition, and they want this issue to take greater prominence in the policy conversation.

Americans across generations and party lines are calling for more attention from national leaders on the debt. More than seven in 10 (72%) Americans say their concern about the national debt has increased over the past few years, and 84% want the president and Congress to spend more time addressing the issue. Half of Americans (52%), including Democrats (56%), independents (49%), and Republicans (49%), say the President and Congress should spend “a lot more time” addressing the national debt, and “strongly agree” that the debt should be a top priority (48%). This conviction is shared by younger voters (47% age 18-44), middle-aged voters (48% age 45-64), and senior voters (47% 65+ years old).

“Voters believe that managing our national debt is a top priority that should play a central role in this year’s election discussion,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “Our unsustainable fiscal outlook threatens our national priorities, economic opportunity, and quality of life for all Americans. This election season, voters deserve to hear a plan from those running for office that puts our nation on a stronger path that will help ensure a bright future 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 February 2020 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 51. (The January value was 47. The December value was 45.)
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 53, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 22, 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 77. 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 1,005 registered voters nationwide, surveyed between February 17, 2020 and February 20, 2020. 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 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 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:


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 2020 January 2020 December 2019
Increased a lot 42% 39% 42%
Increased a little 30% 36% 30%
Decreased a little 11% 7% 9%
Decreased a lot 3% 4% 5%
(No change) 11% 8% 9%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 6% 5%
INCREASED (NET) 72% 75% 72%
DECREASED (NET) 14% 11% 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?
February 2020 January 2020 December 2019
Right direction-Strongly 17% 14% 13%
Right direction-Somewhat 24% 21% 22%
Wrong track-Somewhat 23% 24% 26%
Wrong track-Strongly 32% 34% 34%
(Neither/Mixed) 1% 1% 1%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 6% 5%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 54% 58% 60%
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 2020 January 2020 December 2019
Strongly agree 48% 50% 52%
Somewhat agree 29% 28% 25%
Somewhat disagree 12% 12% 12%
Strongly disagree 5% 2% 3%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 7% 8%
AGREE (NET) 77% 78% 77%
DISAGREE (NET) 17% 15% 15%
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 2020 January 2020 December 2019
A lot more time 52% 52% 49%
A little more time 33% 33% 32%
A little less time 5% 4% 6%
A lot less time 3% 2% 4%
(The same amount of time) 3% 2% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 7% 6%
MORE TIME (NET) 84% 85% 81%
LESS TIME (NET) 8% 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)?
February 2020 January 2020 December 2019
Much better 10% 11% 8%
Somewhat better 23% 22% 17%
Somewhat worse 29% 27% 34%
Much worse 31% 29% 31%
(No change) 3% 2% 3%
(Don't know/Refused) 5% 8% 7%
BETTER (NET) 33% 34% 25%
WORSE (NET) 60% 56% 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?
February 2020 January 2020 December 2019
Very optimistic 9% 9% 8%
Somewhat optimistic 36% 35% 31%
Somewhat pessimistic 33% 31% 35%
Very pessimistic 16% 17% 18%
(Neither/Mixed) 2% 3% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 5% 6%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 44% 44% 39%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 49% 48% 54%

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