As National Debt Surpasses $29 Trillion, Voters Remain Highly Concerned about America’s Fiscal Outlook

Jan 7, 2022

Contact: Jeremy Rosen
jrosen@pgpf.org

The December 2021 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 45 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (January 7, 2022) — At the start of 2022 with a record $29 trillion in national debt, U.S. voters of all stripes are growing more concerned about America’s unsustainable federal budget outlook, according to the nonpartisan Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s newest monthly index. The Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 45 (100 is neutral), indicating that constituents want action on solutions to manage the debt.

More than 8 in 10 voters (83%) say that their level of concern about the national debt has increased over the last few years, up four points from the prior month. Self-identified “Liberal Democrats” are largely driving this movement — 80% of them saying their concern on the debt has increased, up from 65% last month.

Additionally, as lawmakers continue to consider the parameters of the Build Back Better Act, three-in-four voters (75%) feel the national debt should be a top-three priority for the president and Congress, including 69% of Democrats, 69% of independents and 85% of Republicans.

“As a New Year’s resolution, lawmakers should agree to finally address America’s structural debt, which threatens the future prosperity of the next generation,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. “Our national debt challenge existed long before COVID and continues to grow at a dangerous and unsustainable pace. Today, voters are rightly concerned, especially with $5.5 trillion in debt added since the start of the pandemic. It’s time to come together as a country to face a range of unsustainable challenges for our future, and the national debt should be at the top of the list. We cannot create a strong and prepared nation for the next generation unless we secure our 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 December 2021 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 45. (The November value was 41. The October value was 45.)
  • 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 29, 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 67. 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 December 20, 2021 and December 22, 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:

 

CONCERN (40)
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?
December 2021 November 2021 October 2021
Increased a lot 53% 52% 55%
Increased a little 30% 27% 27%
Decreased a little 4% 5% 4%
Decreased a lot 2% 3% 4%
(No change) 8% 9% 6%
(Don't Know/Refused) 2% 5% 4%
INCREASED (NET) 83% 79% 83%
DECREASED (NET) 6% 7% 7%
 
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?
December 2021 November 2021 October 2021
Right direction — Strongly 14% 11% 15%
Right direction — Somewhat 22% 21% 21%
Wrong track — Somewhat 22% 21% 22%
Wrong track — Strongly 39% 41% 37%
(Neither/Mixed) * 1 *
(Don't Know/Refused) 3% 5% 4%
RIGHT DIRECTION (NET) 37% 32% 36%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 60% 62% 59%
PRIORITY (29)
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?
December 2021 November 2021 October 2021
Strongly agree 53% 49% 55%
Somewhat agree 22% 24% 24%
Somewhat disagree 15% 13% 11%
Strongly disagree 6% 7% 6%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 7% 5%
AGREE (NET) 75% 73% 79%
DISAGREE (NET) 21% 20% 16%
 
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?
December 2021 November 2021 October 2021
A lot more time 51% 50% 55%
A little more time 30% 28% 27%
A little less time 7% 7% 8%
A lot less time 5% 5% 4%
(The same amount of time) 3% 4% 3%
(Don't Know/Refused) 3% 6% 4%
MORE TIME (NET) 81% 78% 82%
LESS TIME (NET) 12% 12% 12%
EXPECTATIONS (67)
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)?
December 2021 November 2021 October 2021
Much better 11% 8% 13%
Somewhat better 16% 16% 17%
Somewhat worse 29% 27% 26%
Much worse 39% 41% 40%
(No change) 2% 3% 2%
(Don't know/Refused) 3% 5% 4%
BETTER (NET) 27% 23% 30%
WORSE (NET) 68% 68% 65%
 
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?
December 2021 November 2021 October 2021
Very optimistic 10% 6% 11%
Somewhat optimistic 33% 31% 31%
Somewhat pessimistic 29% 27% 28%
Very pessimistic 24% 29% 25%
(Neither/Mixed) 2% 2% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 2% 4% 3%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 43% 37% 42%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 53% 56% 53%

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