More robust spending by higher-income Americans, if it comes about, can offset some of the lower spending in less well-off households, one reason overall spending plans constitute a rough gauge, not a precise one. Indeed, people in $100,000+ households plan to spend on average about $1,350 on holiday gifts this year, well more than double the intended amount among all who earn less, about $530.
Plans to cut back likewise are somewhat higher among women (54 percent plan to spend less, vs. 46 percent of men) and racial minorities (57 percent of nonwhites, vs. 48 percent of whites) – in both cases likely because women and minorities have lower average incomes.
WOMEN, the WEALTHY and SENIORS – As noted, there are less gloomy signs for retailers in the change in spending plans, specifically among women, the wealthy and seniors.
That includes a big change among wealthy Americans. Last year, 53 percent in $100,000+ households said they'd spend less on gifts; this year, as noted, it's 35 percent, an 18-point drop in intended cutbacks in this group. The change is far smaller, five points, among those less well-off.
As to women, last year 63 percent said they'd spend less on holiday gifts; this year, that's moderated by nine points to 54 percent. Spending plans have been flatter among men – 50 percent said they'd cut back last year, 46 percent this year.
One possible reason: Women are more apt to be Democrats, and economic sentiment has improved among Democrats with Barack Obama in office. Indeed, Democrats are 18 points less likely than a year ago to plan to cut back their spending on gifts.
Finally, there's been a disproportionate decline in cutback plans among seniors, who are far less apt than others to be vulnerable to the job market.
OTHER DATA – One factor in actual retail results may be how much people actually can cut back this year, whatever their preferences, given how depressed spending was last year. Fourth quarter retail sales dropped by 8.17 percent last year vs. Q4 2007, the first negative quarter in a federal government data series since 1993. And it's continued negative each quarter since.
Recent numbers have been mixed. In preliminary estimates by the federal government last week, retail trade sales last month were 1.4 percent over the previous month, but still 2.1 percent below October 2008. This Wednesday, a broader measure, "personal consumption expenditures," were up 0.7 percent in October over September and up 0.8 percent from a year ago; real disposable personal incomes were up 0.2 over the previous month and up 2.2 percent in a year.
METHODOLOGY – This ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Nov. 18-22, 2009, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults including landline and cell-phone respondents. The results have a 4-point error margin. Click here for a detailed description of sampling error. Field work by Social Science Research Solutions at ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.