Following Divisive Campaign Season, Voters Continue to See Rising National Debt as Key Issue for America’s Future

Dec 1, 2020

Contact: Jeremy Rosen
jrosen@pgpf.org

The November 2020 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 53 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (December 1, 2020) — As the nation emerges from a divisive campaign season with a range of complex challenges awaiting a new administration and Congress, Americans remain deeply concerned about the rising national debt, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s monthly Fiscal Confidence Index. The November Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 53 (100 is neutral), indicating that Americans see fiscal issues as a key challenge for our future.

Over seven in 10 voters (73%) say their concern about the national debt has increased in the past few years, and that the president and Congress should spend more time addressing the issue (77%).

While the overall index of 53 remains largely unchanged from October (54), there were significant shifts along party lines, reflecting the result of the Presidential election. Democrats’ expectations that the U.S. will be able to make progress on our national debt has increased significantly from -3 optimistic (44% optimistic/47% pessimistic) last month to +34 optimistic (64% optimistic/30% pessimistic) this month. Republicans have shifted by an even larger margin in the other direction, from +26 optimistic (60% optimistic/34% pessimistic) last month to -17 optimistic (39% optimistic/56% pessimistic) now.

There were also party-line shifts on whether America is on the right or wrong track when it comes to managing the debt (overall: 31% right direction/63% wrong track this month). Last month, Republicans tended to believe that addressing the debt was heading the right direction by 14 points (55% right direction/41% wrong track); now, they believe it is off on the wrong track by 24 points (35% right direction/59% wrong track). Democrats still tend to believe the situation is off on the wrong track, but by a much smaller margin: from -66 (15% right direction/81% wrong track) last month to -31 (32% right direction/63% wrong track) now.

“All voters understand that President-elect Biden and the new Congress will face a range of complex and urgent policy challenges,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “While defeating the pandemic and restoring our economy remain our pressing priorities, Americans are also calling for their leaders to address our unsustainable and dangerous fiscal outlook. By putting our budget on a more sustainable path, we can build a stronger, more resilient nation, with greater preparedness for the challenges of 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 2020 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 53. (The October value was 54. The September value was 53.)
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 43, 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 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 1,000 registered voters nationwide, surveyed between November 16, 2020 and November 19, 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 (43)
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 2020 October 2020 September 2020
Increased a lot 41% 45% 44%
Increased a little 32% 30% 31%
Decreased a little 8% 5% 5%
Decreased a lot 5% 3% 5%
(No change) 10% 10% 11%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 6% 4%
INCREASED (NET) 73% 75% 75%
DECREASED (NET) 13% 9% 10%
 
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 2020 October 2020 September 2020
Right direction-Strongly 10% 15% 14%
Right direction-Somewhat 21% 16% 20%
Wrong track-Somewhat 30% 27% 27%
Wrong track-Strongly 33% 38% 34%
(Neither/Mixed) 1 * 1
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 5% 4%
RIGHT DIRECTION (NET) 31% 31% 35%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 63% 64% 61%
PRIORITY (35)
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 2020 October 2020 September 2020
Strongly agree 40% 43% 43%
Somewhat agree 26% 24% 27%
Somewhat disagree 20% 16% 18%
Strongly disagree 7% 7% 6%
(Don't Know/Refused) 7% 9% 7%
AGREE (NET) 66% 68% 69%
DISAGREE (NET) 27% 23% 23%
 
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 2020 October 2020 September 2020
A lot more time 43% 40% 44%
A little more time 35% 36% 37%
A little less time 6% 6% 6%
A lot less time 4% 6% 4%
(The same amount of time) 5% 4% 4%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 8% 6%
MORE TIME (NET) 77% 76% 81%
LESS TIME (NET) 11% 12% 10%
EXPECTATIONS (79)
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 2020 October 2020 September 2020
Much better 10% 12% 13%
Somewhat better 22% 21% 19%
Somewhat worse 29% 31% 31%
Much worse 32% 26% 29%
(No change) 2% 2% 2%
(Don't know/Refused) 5% 8% 6%
BETTER (NET) 33% 33% 32%
WORSE (NET) 60% 57% 60%
 
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 2020 October 2020 September 2020
Very optimistic 7% 9% 11%
Somewhat optimistic 41% 39% 37%
Somewhat pessimistic 27% 30% 29%
Very pessimistic 17% 12% 16%
(Neither/Mixed) 3% 3% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 6% 5%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 48% 48% 48%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 44% 42% 45%

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