U.S. Fiscal Confidence Drops as Pandemic Accelerates America’s Debt Challenges

Mar 30, 2021

Contact: Jeremy Rosen

The March 2021 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 47 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (March 30, 2021) — After the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was enacted this month, and with a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure package under development by lawmakers, U.S. voters recognize that the pandemic is continuing to accelerate the nation’s fiscal challenges, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s monthly Fiscal Confidence Index. The March Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, dropped five points to 47 (100 is neutral), indicating that voters see the growing national debt as a priority for our nation.

The percentage of Americans who say the President and Congress should spend more time addressing the national debt hit a six-month high of 78%, with the percentage saying “less time” at a one-year low of 9%. More than two-thirds of voters feel the national debt should be a top-three priority (68%), including 58% of Democrats, 65% of independents and 82% of Republicans.

“Voters understand that we are continuing to endure a terrible public health and economic crisis, but they also realize that we are piling on trillions of debt to what was already an unsustainable fiscal outlook,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “Interest on the national debt is on pace to consume nearly half of total annual revenues by 2050, which threatens the needs and priorities of all members of the next generation, regardless of party. Once we are through the pandemic, voters want leaders to act on the many available reforms to build a sustainable budget that will increase preparedness, opportunity and economic strength.”

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 March 2021 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 47. (The February Value was 52. The January value was 49.)
  • The current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 47, 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 61. 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 March 23, 2021 and March 25, 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 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?
March 2021 February 2021 January 2021
Increased a lot 46% 46% 48%
Increased a little 26% 30% 28%
Decreased a little 5% 7% 5%
Decreased a lot 4% 4% 4%
(No change) 14% 8% 9%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 5% 6%
INCREASED (NET) 72% 76% 75%
DECREASED (NET) 9% 11% 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?
March 2021 February 2021 January 2021
Right direction-Strongly 13% 14% 10%
Right direction-Somewhat 25% 25% 22%
Wrong track-Somewhat 21% 23% 28%
Wrong track-Strongly 33% 30% 32%
(Neither/Mixed) 2% 1% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 7% 6%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 54% 53% 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?
March 2021 February 2021 January 2021
Strongly agree 43% 43% 43%
Somewhat agree 25% 27% 27%
Somewhat disagree 16% 18% 16%
Strongly disagree 7% 5% 6%
(Don't Know/Refused) 8% 7% 7%
AGREE (NET) 68% 70% 70%
DISAGREE (NET) 24% 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?
March 2021 February 2021 January 2021
A lot more time 45% 43% 42%
A little more time 33% 34% 35%
A little less time 5% 8% 8%
A lot less time 4% 4% 4%
(The same amount of time) 5% 4% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 8% 8% 9%
MORE TIME (NET) 78% 76% 77%
LESS TIME (NET) 9% 12% 12%
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)?
March 2021 February 2021 January 2021
Much better 9% 8% 10%
Somewhat better 19% 22% 23%
Somewhat worse 22% 27% 25%
Much worse 42% 37% 36%
(No change) 3% 1% 2%
(Don't know/Refused) 6% 5% 5%
BETTER (NET) 28% 31% 33%
WORSE (NET) 64% 64% 61%
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?
March 2021 February 2021 January 2021
Very optimistic 8% 9% 9%
Somewhat optimistic 29% 37% 35%
Somewhat pessimistic 30% 28% 28%
Very pessimistic 25% 19% 21%
(Neither/Mixed) 2% 2% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 6% 5% 5%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 37% 46% 44%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 56% 48% 49%

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