As New Administration and Congress Address Range of National Challenges, Voters Remain Mindful of National Debt

Jan 26, 2021

Contact: Jeremy Rosen
jrosen@pgpf.org

The January 2021 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 49 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (January 26, 2021) — As the new presidential administration and congressional leadership begin to address an ongoing set of complex national challenges, voters remain concerned about the $27.8 trillion 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 49 (100 is neutral), indicating that Americans understand that America’s unsustainable fiscal outlook is a growing challenge for the future.

Nationwide, voter concern about the national debt is five points higher in January 2021 than a year ago, and 23 points higher than in January 2017 when former president Trump took office.

There is bipartisan agreement that addressing the national debt should be a top-three priority for President Biden and the Congress, including 70% of voters nationwide, 63% of Democrats, 64% of independents and 83% of Republicans.

“With the nation still in the grips of a devastating public health and economic crisis, President Biden and the new Congress are right to explore additional relief and recovery legislation, but it’s also critical that we remain mindful of our long-term fiscal outlook, which has gotten far worse as our debt now exceeds the size of our economy,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “Once we overcome this pandemic, policymakers should work together to address our rapidly deteriorating fiscal trajectory. Doing so will not only strengthen our economy, but ensure we have resources for important investments that can increase preparedness, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.”

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 2021 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 49. (The December value was 47. The November value was 53.)
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 41, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 32, 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 74. 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 1,007 registered voters nationwide, surveyed between January 18, 2021 and January 21, 2021. 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 (41)
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 2021 December 2020 November 2020
Increased a lot 48% 45% 41%
Increased a little 28% 27% 32%
Decreased a little 5% 7% 8%
Decreased a lot 4% 4% 5%
(No change) 9% 11% 10%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 7% 5%
INCREASED (NET) 75% 71% 73%
DECREASED (NET) 10% 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?
January 2021 December 2020 November 2020
Right direction-Strongly 10% 10% 10%
Right direction-Somewhat 22% 19% 21%
Wrong track-Somewhat 28% 28% 30%
Wrong track-Strongly 32% 35% 33%
(Neither/Mixed) 2% 1% 1%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 7% 5%
RIGHT DIRECTION (NET) 32% 28% 31%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 60% 63% 63%
PRIORITY (32)
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 2021 December 2020 November 2020
Strongly agree 43% 43% 40%
Somewhat agree 27% 27% 26%
Somewhat disagree 16% 15% 20%
Strongly disagree 6% 7% 7%
(Don't Know/Refused) 7% 8% 7%
AGREE (NET) 70% 70% 66%
DISAGREE (NET) 23% 22% 27%
 
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 2021 December 2020 November 2020
A lot more time 42% 43% 43%
A little more time 35% 34% 35%
A little less time 8% 7% 6%
A lot less time 4% 4% 4%
(The same amount of time) 2% 3% 5%
(Don't Know/Refused) 9% 8% 6%
MORE TIME (NET) 77% 77% 77%
LESS TIME (NET) 12% 12% 11%
EXPECTATIONS (74)
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 2021 December 2020 November 2020
Much better 10% 11% 10%
Somewhat better 23% 20% 22%
Somewhat worse 25% 25% 29%
Much worse 36% 36% 32%
(No change) 2% 2% 2%
(Don't know/Refused) 5% 6% 5%
BETTER (NET) 33% 31% 33%
WORSE (NET) 61% 61% 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?
January 2021 December 2020 November 2020
Very optimistic 9% 9% 7%
Somewhat optimistic 35% 36% 41%
Somewhat pessimistic 28% 28% 27%
Very pessimistic 21% 18% 17%
(Neither/Mixed) 2% 2% 3%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 6% 5%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 44% 44% 48%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 49% 47% 44%

What Does the Debt Mean for Our Future?

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