The vast majority of Americans don't realize the U.S. budget deficit has been shrinking in recent years.

More than 80 percent of Americans participating in a Google consumer survey this week responded that the deficit has grown or stayed the same since 2010, with a plurality — 44.8 percent — saying that it has “increased a lot.”

On Monday the Treasury Department reported that the deficit totaled $607 billion through the first 10 months of fiscal 2013, down from $974 at the same point in 2012.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the total 2013 deficit will be $642 billion, roughly half the $1.29 trillion it was in 2010. This year would be the first since 2008 that the deficit did not exceed $1 trillion.

According to the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, Google chief economist Hal Varian set up the survey after Krugman wondered about public perceptions of the deficit on his blog.

Google designs the sample of its surveys to be nationally representative using the same algorithm the search engine uses for marketing purposes to infer respondents’ demographic information based on their browsing histories. The poll on the deficit had more than 600 responses on Tuesday, but was still ongoing.

The poll suggests that the public is poorly informed about the recent history of government budget shortfalls as another set of budget battles is set to start when lawmakers return from their August recess. Fewer than 20 percent of respondents were able to correctly answer the direction of the change in the federal deficit over the past three years.