Consumer Confidence Stable

One week before the presidential election, slightly more Americans say the economy’s in good shape, while fewer say the same about their own finances -- competing views that leave consumer confidence unchanged and holding just below its long-term average.

The ABC News/"Money" magazine Consumer Comfort Index stands at -11 on its scale of +100 to -100, right where it’s been the last two weeks, and a bare two points off its average since 1985, -9. But components within the index have shifted slightly: Thirty-nine percent now say the economy’s in good shape, up five points in the last three weeks; but the number who now say their own finances are OK, 53 percent, is the fewest since mid-June.

In the index’s third gauge, 41 percent call it a good time to buy things, unchanged despite rising gasoline prices.

ELECTION -- The economy continues to be one of the top three most important issues to voters in the election -- and one that helps John Kerry. About a quarter of likely voters in the ABC News election tracking poll say the economy is the most important issue in their vote, and seven in 10 of them favor the Democrat over George W. Bush.

The ABC/"Money" index this week is just below where it was at this point during Bill Clinton’s successful re-election campaign in 1996 (-7), and far better than it was during George H.W. Bush’s unsuccessful drive for a second term (-48).

As has been the case throughout this politically charged year, confidence is heavily influenced by partisanship. The ABC/"Money" index among Republicans is a strong +33, but plummets to -20 among independents and further, to -43, among Democrats.

TREND -- The index has had a rocky year: It peaked at -3 in mid-January, dropped to its worst of this year (-22) in mid-March, bounced back through the spring, fell to -20 in mid-June and then recovered again. It’s unchanged in the last two weeks after slipping from -7 six weeks ago.

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. The 2004 average so far is -12.

GROUPS -- As usual, confidence is stronger among better-off Americans. The index is +49 among high-income people while -42 among those with the lowest incomes, -4 among college graduates while -42 among high-school dropouts, -5 among whites but -43 among blacks, and 0 among men but -22 among women.

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

NATIONAL ECONOMY -- Thirty-nine percent of Americans rate the U.S. economy as excellent or good; it was 37 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-three percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 56 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-one percent say it’s an excellent or good time to buy things, the same as last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 20 percent in fall 1990.

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