You have to hand it to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation for its craftiness. The offspring of hedge fund billionaire Pete Peterson, the foundation knows no obstacles when it comes to pushing its agenda of cutting government spending, especially on Social Security and Medicare. It funds speaking tours for deficit hawks, Washington conferences where politicians and Wall Street bankers gather for mutual hand-wringing, and "grass-roots" anti-debt lobbies that are merely fronts for big-money industrialists.
Among the foundation's big ventures is its Fiscal Confidence Index, a monthly survey that purports to measure public concern over the national debt. The October survey is here and -- big surprise -- it comes in at an "all-time low" of 38 (100 being "neutral").
A couple of things about this. First, as David Callahan of the progressive think tank Demos observed in January, the survey is "a case study in how polling data can be used selectively and manipulatively." The poll is narrowly constructed -- respondents are always asked the same six questions, pertaining exclusively to the national debt. For example: "Thinking about our national debt over the last few years, would you say your level of concern has increased or decreased?" Another question is: "Some people say that addressing the national debt should be among the President and Congress' top 3 priorities. Do you agree or disagree?"
When Gallup asked people to rank their concerns in May, 86% listed "creating more jobs" as a top or high priority, tied with "helping the economy grow." Reducing the federal deficit, the closest Gallup came to asking about the debt, ranked seventh of the 12 choices, picked as a top or high priority by 69%. The "job situation" has been the top economic concern of the American public at least since 2010, according to the Pew Research Center. The budget deficit hasn't ranked higher than second in all that time. The national debt doesn't make the list.
Tell me your No. 1 economic concern.