Buying Climate Ratings Advance, But Confidence Can't Break Through

The most striking difference this week is the narrow racial gap, with an index of -44 among whites vs. -43 among blacks (the best since September). Only six other times in data since 1990 has the index been numerically higher among blacks than whites. This gap has been unusually narrow this year, averaging just 9 points, compared with a long-term average of 28 points.

Partisan differences also are unusually narrow, with the CCI at -42 among Republicans compared with -41 among Democrats and -47 among independents – the first time it's been numerically higher among Democrats than Republicans since 1996 and only the 10th time the gap has been in the Democrats' favor. The partisan gap has been narrower than usual this year, averaging 19 points, compared with 41 points last year and 32 points long-term.

Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News CCI:

NATIONAL ECONOMY – Seven percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was 8 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 4 percent Feb. 8, 2009.

PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-seven percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 44 percent last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 39 percent June 28 and 21, 2009.

BUYING CLIMATE – Twenty-nine percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 28 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 18 percent, last reached Oct. 19, 2008.

METHODOLOGY – Interviews for the ABC News Consumer Comfort Index are reported in a four-week rolling average. This week's results are based on telephone interviews among a random national sample of 1,000 adults in the four weeks ending Dec. 13, 2009. The results have a 3-point error margin. The expectations question was asked of 500 respondents Dec. 2-13, 2009; that result has a 4.5-point error margin. Field work by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.

The index is derived by subtracting the negative response to each index question from the positive response to that question. The three resulting numbers are 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.

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