Rising national debt to affect voters' midterm election decisions, poll says

  • A wide majority of voters say the nation's rising debt will factor into their decision during next week's midterm elections, according to a new survey.
  • The poll by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation finds that about three-quarters of voters rank the national debt as "important" in determining which candidate to support.
  • The deficit ballooned by 17 percent last fiscal year to $779 billion, driven by the sweeping Republican tax cuts and more government spending, particularly on defense. The deficit is forecast to hit $1 trillion in fiscal year 2019.
Voter going to a polling place in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Nick Oxford | Reuters
Voter going to a polling place in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

A wide majority of voters say the nation's rising debt will factor into their decision during next week's midterm elections, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The poll by the nonpartisan Peter G. Peterson Foundation found that about three-quarters of voters rank the national debt as "important" in determining which candidate to support.

The number held steady across political lines — Republican, Democrat and independent. The survey also found that voters were more likely to back a candidate who is willing to work across party lines to reduce the debt.

"This election season, voters are looking for leaders who will restore fiscal order and secure our future," said Michael A. Peterson, the foundation's chief executive.

The poll was conducted during the past week and surveyed 1,000 registered voters. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.

The think tank has long called on Washington to rein in federal spending. But its findings were mirrored in other national surveys this month.

The Pew Research Center found that growing deficits are one of the few issues that a majority of both Republicans and Democrats regard as a major national problem. More than half of voters in a Morning Consult/Politico survey ranked reducing the federal deficit as a "top priority."

The deficit ballooned by 17 percent last fiscal year to $779 billion, driven by the sweeping Republican tax cuts and more government spending, particularly on defense. The deficit is forecast to hit $1 trillion in fiscal year 2019.

But with the 2020 presidential election looming, both parties appear more eager to talk about costly new proposals than about budget cuts.

The Penn Wharton Budget Model estimates a plan from Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., to give working families a tax credit worth up to $6,000 would cost $3 trillion over a decade. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, another possible Democratic presidential contender, announced a similar idea to provide $1,000 savings account for every child.

President Donald Trump has floated another 10 percent tax cut for middle-income households. The administration has not released details of the proposal or an estimated price tag.

The cut would come on top of a bill passed by the House that would make permanent the current cuts to individual tax rates. That is expected to cost $627 billion, according to government estimates.

"Lawmakers have made irresponsible fiscal choices that have grown the national debt to dangerous levels, putting critical federal programs and future generations at risk," Peterson said.