US Fiscal Confidence at 7-Year Low, as National Debt Surpasses $30 Trillion

Feb 3, 2022

Contact: Jeremy Rosen
jrosen@pgpf.org

The January 2022 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 41 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (February 3, 2022) — As the national debt surpasses $30 trillion, voter confidence in America’s financial situation and budget outlook tied a 7-year low, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s newest monthly index. The Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 41 (100 is neutral), indicating that constituents are concerned about the runaway debt trajectory, especially in the midst of high inflation and expected interest rate hikes.

Eighty-four percent of voters — the highest mark in the history of this Index — say that their level of concern about the national debt has increased over the last few years. Further, more than three-in-four voters (76%) feel the national debt should be a top-three priority for the president and Congress, including 71% of Democrats, 73% of independents, and 86% of Republicans.

Increasing numbers of voters believe that leaders have us on the wrong track when it comes to addressing the national debt (33% right direction/63% wrong track, from 37%/60% the prior month). This change is driven predominantly by a reversion among Democrats, who moved by 16 points toward wrong track (54% right direction/40% wrong track, from 63%/33%).

“The United States just borrowed its 30-trillionth dollar, and Americans are more concerned than ever,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “While $30 trillion is the latest in a long line of fiscal red flags, the even bigger problem is that we remain on track to borrow another $13 trillion over the next 10 years and another $30 trillion in the 10 years after that. Americans know in their gut that this path is damaging to our collective future, and will ultimately impact economic opportunity and our ability to address important national priorities. Lawmakers should respond to these well-founded constituent concerns and commit to a sustainable budget that reflects our history of moral responsibility and optimism 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 January 2022 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 41. (The December value was 45. The November value was 41.)
  • current Fiscal Confidence Index score for CONCERN about the debt is 36, indicating deep concern about the debt. The score for debt as a PRIORITY that leaders must address is 27, 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 60. 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 January 24, 2022 and January 26, 2022. 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 (36)
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 2022 December 2021 November 2021
Increased a lot 52% 53% 52%
Increased a little 32% 30% 27%
Decreased a little 4% 4% 5%
Decreased a lot 2% 2% 3%
(No change) 7% 8% 9%
(Don't Know/Refused) 3% 2% 5%
INCREASED (NET) 84% 83% 79%
DECREASED (NET) 6% 6% 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?
January 2022 December 2021 November 2021
Right direction — Strongly 12% 14% 11%
Right direction — Somewhat 21% 22% 21%
Wrong track — Somewhat 23% 22% 21%
Wrong track — Strongly 40% 39% 41%
(Neither/Mixed) 1 * 1
(Don't Know/Refused) 3% 3% 5%
RIGHT DIRECTION (NET) 33% 37% 32%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 63% 60% 62%
PRIORITY (27)
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 2022 December 2021 November 2021
Strongly agree 50% 53% 49%
Somewhat agree 26% 22% 24%
Somewhat disagree 14% 15% 13%
Strongly disagree 5% 6% 7%
(Don't Know/Refused) 5% 4% 7%
AGREE (NET) 76% 75% 73%
DISAGREE (NET) 19% 21% 20%
 
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 2022 December 2021 November 2021
A lot more time 50% 51% 50%
A little more time 31% 30% 28%
A little less time 8% 7% 7%
A lot less time 4% 5% 5%
(The same amount of time) 3% 3% 4%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 3% 6%
MORE TIME (NET) 81% 81% 78%
LESS TIME (NET) 12% 12% 12%
EXPECTATIONS (60)
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 2022 December 2021 November 2021
Much better 9% 11% 8%
Somewhat better 17% 16% 16%
Somewhat worse 32% 29% 27%
Much worse 38% 69% 41%
(No change) 2% 2% 3%
(Don't know/Refused) 3% 3% 5%
BETTER (NET) 26% 27% 23%
WORSE (NET) 70% 68% 68%
 
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 2022 December 2021 November 2021
Very optimistic 8% 10% 6%
Somewhat optimistic 30% 33% 31%
Somewhat pessimistic 33% 29% 27%
Very pessimistic 24% 24% 29%
(Neither/Mixed) 2% 2% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 3% 2% 4%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 38% 43% 37%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 57% 53% 56%

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