Voters Remain Deeply Concerned about Fiscal Irresponsibility in Washington

January 7, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – Voters remain deeply concerned about Washington’s wanton ways when it comes to spending and want leaders to take corrective action, a new survey by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation finds.

The survey was conducted in December, just as Congress and the White House were agreeing to a 2020 spending plan that will push the federal deficit above $1 trillion by the end of the fiscal year.

The data is fed into an index — the Fiscal Confidence Index — which is modeled after the Consumer Confidence Index.

In December the Index stood at 45 (100 is neutral), indicating the public views the government’s unsustainable spending as a grave concern.

The December index also showed broad bipartisan and cross-generational agreement that the debt should be a top priority for Congress and the president.

Nearly eight in 10 voters (77%) want addressing the debt to be a top-three priority, including a 2019-high of 52% who “strongly agree.” 

Fiscal concern spans party lines, with 70% of Democrats, 76% of independents and 84% of Republicans agreeing that it should be a top-three priority.

That goal is also shared among 76% of those ages 18 to 44, 77% of those ages 45 to 64, and 76% of those older than 65 years.

“As another unfortunate year of fiscal irresponsibility comes to a close, voters are sending a clear message to Washington that they want fiscal leadership,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation.

“While lawmakers are adding red ink, voters are calling for them to manage the debt, invest in our future and address national challenges. Getting our fiscal house in order is essential to maintaining our economic prosperity and leadership role in the world,” he said.

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 2019 Fiscal Confidence Index value is 45. (The November value was 45. The October value was 54.)
  • 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 23, 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 65. The Fiscal Confidence Index is the average of these three sub-category scores.

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 1,001 registered voters nationwide, surveyed between December 16, 2019 and December 19, 2019. 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 here.

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