Consumer confidence has spiked to its best level in nine months -- an apparent political effect in a politically charged week.
In a highly unusual upturn, the ABC News/"Money" magazine Consumer Comfort index jumped six points this week to -5 on its scale of +100 to -100. The index has jumped six points or more in a single week only six times in 984 weekly polls since December 1985.
The increase came chiefly among Democrats -- a seven-point boost from -43 last week to -36 this week. While consumer confidence still is very low among Democrats, the change likely reflects their hopes about the outcome of the presidential election: Surveys have had the race at a dead heat, and most Democrats thought John Kerry would win.
Even more Republicans thought George W. Bush will win, but consumer confidence among Republicans has been much higher all year, and is little changed this week. The index did rise among independents, up four points to -16.
There is a precedent for this kind of election-inspired bump in consumer confidence: In the week before the 1996 election, with polls showing Bill Clinton comfortably headed for re-election, the ABC/"Money" index jumped seven points among Democrats.
It's particularly fitting this year, a year in which economic views have been driven more strongly than usual by political allegiance. There's good reason for that: In some years, like 1992, there was broad agreement that the economy was in bad shape. In other years, like 1996, there was broad agreement that it was on the upswing. This year there's more room for debate, which opens the door to partisanship.
With this week's change the index is its highest since Feb. 1. More important, at -5 it's now above its long-term average since December 1985, -9. Using University of Michigan consumer confidence data (which goes back further, to 1952), no incumbent running for re-election since 1956 has lost when consumer confidence during his re-election year was above its long-term average.
At the same time, the ABC/"Money" index is markedly lower now than its peak just after Bush took office, a robust +20.
INDEX -- The ABC/"Money" index is based on Americans' ratings of the economy, their personal finances and the buying climate. All three ratings are better this week than last, and are now at or above their long-term averages.
Forty-two percent say the economy's in good shape, up from 39 percent last week; the long-term average is 40 percent. About as many, 43 percent, call it a good time to buy things, compared with 41 percent last week and an average of 39 percent. And 57 percent say their own finances are OK, up four points in the last week to match its average.
TREND -- At -5, the index is just below its peak this year, -3 in mid-January, and far better than its worst of this year, -22 in mid-March.
The ABC/"Money" index has averaged -10, near its overall average, since Bush took office in January 2001, ranging as noted from +20 in February 2001 to -28 in advance of the Iraq war in March 2003.
Across its 18 years 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 its best yearly average, +29 in 2000. The 2004 average so far is -11.
Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC/Money index: