Confidence Lays Low

Consumer Confidence Index

To find Barack Obama's woes in advance of his first State of the Union address, look no further than consumer confidence: A year to the week after hitting its record low in the past generation, it's barely any better.

The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -48 on its scale of +100 to -100, essentially flat the past three weeks after a steep start-of-year dive. It's within sight of its all-time low, -54 this week last year. That compares to a long-term average of -13 in 24 years of weekly polls.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

Views of the national economy are the chain around confidence's ankle; more than nine in 10 Americans continue to say the economy's in bad shape. The other two components of the index aren't quite so dire, but hardly good: More than three-quarters rate the buying climate negatively and more than half say the same of their own finances.

Confidence is closely aligned with unemployment, now in double digits for three months, a first since 1982-1983. Housing prices don't help; the latest Case-Shiller Home Price Index reports home values down by 5.3 percent since last year in 20 of the nation's largest cities.

INDEX – Forty-seven percent of Americans rate their personal finances positively, down from 51 percent three weeks ago; it's 10 points below its long-term average and has been below a majority for 76 of the last 79 weeks, a record.

Twenty-three percent call it a good time to spend money, down 7 points since the peak of the holiday shopping season and 14 points worse than average. And only 8 percent rate the national economy positively, 30 points below average and in single digits for nine weeks straight.

TREND – The index has taken a turn for the worse after a brief run-up. It reached -41 Jan. 3, a 16-month high, only to fall back sharply to -47 a week later – a very unusual 6-point one-week slide. This week's rating of -48 matches its average since 2009.

The CCI has been below -40 for a record 92 consecutive weeks. And this week the long-term average inched down a point, to -13, a number that rarely moves given over 1,250 weeks of data.

GROUPS – The index as usual is higher among better-off Americans, but has been negative across the board for 48 weeks straight, the longest such run in available data since 1990.

It's -12 among those with the highest incomes (their lowest since late November) but -75 among those with the lowest, -34 among people who've attended college vs. -61 among those who never finished high school, -44 among homeowners but -58 among renters and -48 among whites while -60 among blacks.

Notable this week is the lack of difference between men and women, -47 each; it's just the 13th time since 1990 the index hasn't been numerically higher among men.

Likewise, the usual partisan gap has disappeared. This week the index is -50 for Republicans vs. -48 for Democrats (and -46 for independents). The insignificant 2-point gap in the Democrats' favor is very unusual; this is only the 12th time it's occurred. The index usually is distinctly higher among Republicans – by an average 18 points last year, 41 points in 2008 and 32 points long-term.

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

NATIONAL ECONOMY – Eight percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was 9 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 4 percent Feb. 8, 2009.

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