As Coronavirus Pandemic Continues, Voters Remain Mindful of National Debt

May 27, 2020

Contact: Jeremy Rosen
jrosen@pgpf.org

The May 2020 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 49 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (May 27, 2020) — As lawmakers weigh additional policy responses to address the significant health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus, voters remain mindful of the national debt as a critical issue for the future, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s monthly Fiscal Confidence Index. The May Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 49 (100 is neutral), indicating that as our nation confronts this pandemic a majority of Americans is also concerned that the country’s worsening fiscal outlook is a critical long-term problem.

After the national debt surpassed $25 trillion for the first time — adding $1 trillion in less than a month — 76% of Americans say their concern over the debt has grown. By a two-to-one margin, Americans believe things are on the wrong track when it comes to the handling of the national debt. Concern over the debt is widespread, with strong majorities of Democrats (70%), independents (76%), and Republicans (86%) wanting Congress to focus on the issue.

“As this crisis continues, lawmakers are taking necessary action to confront the pandemic and help our nation recover. At the same time, voters are very concerned about our nation’s fiscal and economic future,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “As debt rises and the economy slows, our fiscal position weakens, and it’s clear that once this crisis ends, Americans want their leaders to improve our national preparedness and map out a stronger and more stable fiscal 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 May 2020 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 49. (The April value was 47. The March value was 47.)
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 44, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 33, 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 71. 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 May 18, 2020 and May 22, 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 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 (44)
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?
May 2020 April 2020 March 2020
Increased a lot 48% 44% 45%
Increased a little 28% 31% 31%
Decreased a little 7% 7% 8%
Decreased a lot 3% 4% 4%
(No change) 7% 9% 9%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 6% 3%
INCREASED (NET) 76% 75% 75%
DECREASED (NET) 11% 10% 12%
 
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?
May 2020 April 2020 March 2020
Right direction-Strongly 15% 15% 14%
Right direction-Somewhat 19% 18% 22%
Wrong track-Somewhat 24% 23% 27%
Wrong track-Strongly 36% 37% 33%
(Neither/Mixed) * 2% 1%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 5% 4%
RIGHT DIRECTION (NET) 34% 33% 36%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 60% 61% 60%
PRIORITY (33)
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?
May 2020 April 2020 March 2020
Strongly agree 41% 40% 46%
Somewhat agree 29% 27% 28%
Somewhat disagree 13% 19% 15%
Strongly disagree 7% 6% 4%
(Don't Know/Refused) 10% 8% 7%
AGREE (NET) 70% 67% 73%
DISAGREE (NET) 20% 25% 20%
 
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?
May 2020 April 2020 March 2020
A lot more time 43% 41% 43%
A little more time 34% 37% 36%
A little less time 7% 8% 8%
A lot less time 5% 5% 4%
(The same amount of time) 2% 3% 3%
(Don't Know/Refused) 8% 6% 6%
MORE TIME (NET) 77% 78% 79%
LESS TIME (NET) 13% 13% 12%
EXPECTATIONS (71)
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)?
May 2020 April 2020 March 2020
Much better 9% 9% 8%
Somewhat better 19% 17% 19%
Somewhat worse 26% 29% 28%
Much worse 38% 38% 40%
(No change) 1% 1% 1%
(Don't know/Refused) 6% 5% 4%
BETTER (NET) 29% 26% 27%
WORSE (NET) 64% 68% 68%
 
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?
May 2020 April 2020 March 2020
Very optimistic 9% 7% 7%
Somewhat optimistic 33% 33% 36%
Somewhat pessimistic 34% 34% 32%
Very pessimistic 16% 20% 19%
(Neither/Mixed) 1% 2% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 7% 5% 4%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 42% 40% 43%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 50% 53% 51%

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