With Federal Interest Costs Rising to Record Levels, Voters Are Deeply Concerned About the National Debt

Mar 3, 2023

Contact: Jeremy Rosen

The February 2023 Fiscal Confidence Index, Modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 44 (100 is Neutral)

NEW YORK (March 3, 2023) — Interest costs are now projected to total $10.5 trillion over the next decade, 93% higher than what was projected just 19 months ago, and voters across party lines are deeply concerned about the national debt. The latest monthly Fiscal Confidence Index, modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index, is 44 (100 is neutral), indicating strong public consensus that leaders should focus efforts on stabilizing the debt to regain control of the federal budget.

Matching an 11-month high, 82% of voters say that their concern about the national debt has increased. Additionally, 80% of voters believe the debt should be a top-three priority for the president and Congress, including 70% of Democrats, 75% of independents, and 95% of Republicans.

As policymakers face a range of fiscal and economic challenges including the debt ceiling, interest rate hikes and stubbornly high inflation, voters are slightly more hopeful that leaders can make progress on the debt (44% optimistic/51% pessimistic) — up two points from last month.

“CBO’s latest report shows just how vulnerable we are to rising interest rates, and voters are paying attention,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “Interest is on pace to reach an all-time high, eating up more of the budget than ever, harming our economy and inhibiting our ability to invest for today and tomorrow. It is time that lawmakers work together and put every budget option back on the table. Voters are urging leaders to work together to consider the many available revenue and spending reforms that can put America on a sustainable and stronger path 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 February 2023 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 44. (The January value was 40. The December value was 43.)
  • The 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 25, 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 71. 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 February 21, 2023 and February 23, 2023. 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?
Feb 2023 Jan 2023 Dec 2022
Increased a lot 50% 51% 51%
Increased a little 32% 31% 29%
Decreased a little 4% 4% 6%
Decreased a lot 3% 3% 3%
(No change) 9% 8% 10%
(Don't Know/Refused) 2% 3% 2%
INCREASED (NET) 82% 82% 79%
DECREASED (NET) 7% 7% 8%
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?
Feb 2023 Jan 2023 Dec 2022
Right direction — Strongly 11% 9% 10%
Right direction — Somewhat 20% 20% 21%
Wrong track — Somewhat 25% 27% 27%
Wrong track — Strongly 40% 40% 39%
(Neither/Mixed) 1% 1% 1%
(Don't Know/Refused) 2% 3% 2%
WRONG TRACK (NET) 65% 67% 66%
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?
Feb 2023 Jan 2023 Dec 2022
Strongly agree 54% 57% 52%
Somewhat agree 26% 25% 24%
Somewhat disagree 14% 11% 16%
Strongly disagree 4% 3% 5%
(Don't Know/Refused) 3% 4% 4%
AGREE (NET) 80% 82% 76%
DISAGREE (NET) 17% 14% 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?
Feb 2023 Jan 2023 Dec 2022
A lot more time 53% 54% 49%
A little more time 29% 30% 33%
A little less time 7% 6% 6%
A lot less time 4% 4% 4%
(The same amount of time) 3% 3% 3%
(Don't Know/Refused) 4% 4% 4%
MORE TIME (NET) 82% 84% 83%
LESS TIME (NET) 12% 10% 10%
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)?
Feb 2023 Jan 2023 Dec 2022
Much better 9% 7% 8%
Somewhat better 20% 22% 19%
Somewhat worse 30% 33% 30%
Much worse 34% 33% 37%
(No change) 4% 2% 3%
(Don't know/Refused) 3% 3% 2%
BETTER (NET) 29% 29% 28%
WORSE (NET) 65% 66% 67%
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?
Feb 2023 Jan 2023 Dec 2022
Very optimistic 9% 5% 7%
Somewhat optimistic 35% 37% 35%
Somewhat pessimistic 33% 35% 32%
Very pessimistic 18% 19% 21%
(Neither/Mixed) 2% 2% 2%
(Don't Know/Refused) 3% 2% 3%
OPTIMISTIC (NET) 44% 42% 43%
PESSIMISTIC (NET) 51% 54% 53%

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