Consumer confidence, up significantly in the last month, reached its highest level since January this week -- a promising sign for retailers three days from the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.
A variety of factors may be at play -- one, a lessening of partisan divisions with the presidential election over; another, a drop in gasoline prices for the third week straight.
In the former, the gap in confidence between Democrats and Republicans is down to 56 points, still high but down from 76 points a month ago. And in the latter, gas prices have dropped by eight cents per gallon in the last month in U.S. Department of Energy data.
INDEX -- The ABC News/Money magazine Consumer Comfort index, based on Americans' ratings of the current economy, buying climate and personal finances, stands at -4 on its scale of +100 to -100. It was -6 last week and -11 a month ago.
The index is now just a point from its 2004 high, -3 on Jan. 18, and well up from its low for the year, -22 in March. For comparison, the 18-year-old weekly index peaked at +38 in January 2000 and bottomed out at -50 in February 1992.
Forty-three percent of Americans rate the national economy positively -- tying last week's number as the most since January. Thirty-nine percent call it a good time to buy things, while more, 60 percent, say their personal finances are in good shape. The economy and finances ratings are each three points better than average, while the buying climate rating matches its long-term average.
TREND -- The ABC/Money index has averaged -11 across 2004, better than its average of -19 in 2003. Its best yearly average was +29 in 2000; its worst, -44 in 1992.
GROUPS -- As usual, confidence is stronger among better-off Americans. The index is +42 among high-income people while -49 among those with the lowest incomes; +8 among college graduates while -33 among high-school dropouts; -2 among whites but -20 among blacks; and +6 among men but -16 among women.
The index is lowest in the Northeast, -15. As has been the case all year, it's far higher among Republicans (+27), than independents (-16) or Democrats (-29). But as noted, that's less of a gap than at its peak: It was +43 among Republicans and -47 among Democrats in July.
Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC/Money index:
NATIONAL ECONOMY -- Forty-three percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; the same as last week. The highest was 80 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The lowest was 7 percent in late 1991 and early 1992.
PERSONAL FINANCES -- Sixty percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 58 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 -- Thirty-nine percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 40 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 Nov. 21, 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.
See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.