Consumer Confidence Soars

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:

NATIONAL ECONOMY -- Forty-two percent of Americans rate the U.S. economy as excellent or good; it was 39 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The lowest was seven percent in late 1991 and early 1992.

PERSONAL FINANCES -- Fifty-seven percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 53 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-three percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 41 percent 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. 31, 2004, and have an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points. Field work by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.

The ABC/"Money" index is derived by subtracting the negative response to each index question 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.