As Election Day Approaches, Voter Concern about the National Debt Remains High

Oct 27, 2020

Contact: Jeremy Rosen

The October 2020 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 54 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (October 27, 2020) — In the waning days of the 2020 campaign and as the nation continues to endure the coronavirus pandemic, voters remain deeply concerned about the record and rising national debt, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s monthly Fiscal Confidence Index. The October Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 54 (100 is neutral), reflecting that America’s fiscal future is on voters’ minds as they head to the polls.

Three in four Americans (75%) say that their level of concern about the debt has increased over the last few years, and they want the president and Congress to spend more time addressing the debt (76%). Additionally, voters are less likely to say that management of the national debt is heading in the right direction (31% right direction/64% wrong track, from 35%/61% last month).

“While our most pressing priority is defeating the virus, this election season voters also understand that our enormous national debt is a critical issue for America’s future,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “The next president and Congress will have a key challenge – and opportunity – to put our nation on a more responsible fiscal path. Once the pandemic is behind us, our leaders should commit to laying a sustainable fiscal foundation for America, which represents an investment in driving economic opportunity and prosperity 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 October 2020 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 54. (The September value was 53. The August value was 47.
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 40, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 35, 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 86. 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 1,009 registered voters nationwide, surveyed between October 19, 2020 and October 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:

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?
October 2020 September 2020 August 2020
Increased a lot 45% 44% 47%
Increased a little 30% 31% 30%
Decreased a little 5% 5% 7%
Decreased a lot 3% 5% 5%
(No change) 10% 11% 9%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 4% 3%
INCREASED (NET) 75% 75% 77%
DECREASED (NET) 9% 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?
October 2020 September 2020 August 2020
Right direction-Strongly 15% 14% 12%
Right direction-Somewhat 16% 20% 17%
Wrong track-Somewhat 27% 27% 27%
Wrong track-Strongly 37% 34% 39%
(Neither/Mixed) * 1 1
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 4% 3%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 64% 61% 66%
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?
October 2020 September 2020 August 2020
Strongly agree 43% 43% 43%
Somewhat agree 24% 27% 30%
Somewhat disagree 16% 18% 16%
Strongly disagree 7% 6% 6%
(Don't Know/Refused) 9% 7% 5%
AGREE (NET) 68% 69% 73%
DISAGREE (NET) 23% 23% 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?
October 2020 September 2020 August 2020
A lot more time 40% 44% 48%
A little more time 36% 37% 32%
A little less time 6% 6% 8%
A lot less time 6% 4% 3%
(The same amount of time) 4% 4% 4%
(Don't Know/Refused) 8% 6% 8%
MORE TIME (NET) 76% 81% 79%
LESS TIME (NET) 12% 10% 11%
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)?
October 2020 September 2020 August 2020
Much better 12% 13% 11%
Somewhat better 21% 19% 19%
Somewhat worse 31% 31% 32%
Much worse 26% 29% 31%
(No change) 2% 2% 1%
(Don't know/Refused) 8% 6% 6%
BETTER (NET) 33% 32% 30%
WORSE (NET) 57% 60% 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?
October 2020 September 2020 August 2020
Very optimistic 9% 11% 9%
Somewhat optimistic 39% 37% 32%
Somewhat pessimistic 30% 29% 38%
Very pessimistic 12% 16% 16%
(Neither/Mixed) 3% 2% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 5% 3%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 48% 48% 41%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 42% 45% 54%

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