Consumer Confidence Steadies

Consumer confidence held about steady this week, halting a monthlong decline within sight of its long-term average.

The ABC News/"Money" magazine Consumer Comfort Index stands at -11 on its scale of +100 to -100, compared with -12 last week, where it'd slipped from -7 a month ago.

It's an open question how long confidence can hang tough despite rising gasoline prices; the ABC/"Money" index often drops as fuel prices rise. But politics might be a stabilizing factor: Polarized around the election, Democrats are hugely negative in their economic assessments, Republicans far more positive -- partisanship may serve to lock in current sentiment until Election Day has passed.

The index this week stands at -45 among Democrats and -23 among independents, compared with +38 among Republicans. That's far more polarization than usual, even just before a presidential election.

INDEX -- The index is based on Americans' views of the national economy, their personal finances and the buying climate. This week, 35 percent rate the economy positively, five points below the average in weekly polls since December 1985. Forty percent call it a good time to buy things, one point above average; and 58 percent say their own finances are in good shape, also one point above average.

TREND -- The ABC/"Money" index peaked early this year, reaching -3 in mid-January. It dropped to its worst of the year, -22, in mid-March, but then rebounded throughout the spring. It fell to -20 in mid-June and recovered again. The index fluctuated between -6 and -11 before slipping to -12 last week. This week it gained a point, -11, and stopped its monthlong slide.

The index has ranged from a high of +38 in January 2000 to a low of -50 in February 1992. Its worst annual average was -44 in 1992. Last year it averaged -19, much worse than the best yearly average of +29 in 2000. This year so far it's averaged -12.

GROUPS -- Confidence, as usual, is stronger among better-off Americans. The index is +16 among higher-income people while -45 among those with the lowest incomes, +1 among college graduates while -51 among high-school dropouts, -8 among whites but -31 among blacks and -1 among men but -22 among women.

Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News/"Money" index:

NATIONAL ECONOMY -- Thirty-five percent of Americans rate the U.S. economy as excellent or good; it was 34 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The lowest was 7 percent in late 1991 and early 1992.

PERSONAL FINANCES -- Fifty-eight percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 60 percent last week. The best was 70 percent on Aug. 30, 1998, matched in January 2000. The worst was 42 percent on March 14, 1993.

BUYING CLIMATE -- Forty percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; 38 percent said so last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 20 percent in fall 1990.

METHODOLOGY -- The ABC News/"Money" magazine Consumer Comfort Index represents a rolling average based on telephone interviews with a random sample of about 1,000 adults nationwide each month. This week's results are based on 1,000 interviews in the four weeks ending Oct. 10, 2004, and have an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points. Field work was conducted by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.

The ABC News/"Money" index is derived as follows: The negative response to each index question is subtracted from the positive response to that question. The three resulting numbers are then added and divided by three. The index can range from +100 (everyone positive on all three measures) to -100 (all negative on all three measures). The survey began in December 1985.

Click here for PDF version with charts and data table.

See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.

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