POLL: Confidence in the Doldrums

Consumer confidence flattened this week, within sight of its record low.

The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -45 on its scale of +100 to -100, 35 points below its long-term average in 22 years of weekly polls and 6 points from the all-time low it reached two weeks ago. It's been -45 or lower for six weeks straight.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

Among other causes for concern, the index is -19 among people with household incomes over $100,000, a new low in three years of tracking that income group.

Consumers have plenty of reasons to worry. Gasoline prices jumped 6 cents to a record $4.04 a gallon, stocks plunged Friday as oil skyrocketed by more than $10 a barrel and the biggest monthly surge in unemployment in 22 years underscored the economy's weakness.

INDEX – The CCI is based on Americans' ratings of their current finances, the national economy and the buying climate. Only 12 percent rate the economy positively, down 19 points this year and 28 points below the long-term average, 40 percent. And just 22 percent call it a good time to buy things, down 9 points this year and 16 points off the long-term average. The year's buying-climate average, 25 percent positive, is the same as it was during the 1990-91 recession.

As usual more, 48 percent, rate their personal finances positively, but that's been fewer than half for six weeks, the longest since a 15-week stretch in 1993. It's 4 points below the 2008 average and 9 points below the long-term average since late 1985.

TREND – Despite a 6-point gain last week and this week's pause, confidence is in grim condition. It's dropped 25 points since the start of 2008 and has averaged -36 so far this year, compared with yearlong worsts of -44 in 1992 and -37 in 1991 and 1993.

At -45, the CCI is not only 9 points off its 2008 average but far below its long-term average of -10 and farther still from its high, +38 in January 2000.

GROUPS – The CCI is higher in better-off groups, but still negative across the board. As noted, it's a record low -19 among higher-income Americans as well as a bleak -80 among those with the lowest incomes. It's -37 among people who've been to college while -58 among high-school dropouts and -42 among whites while -62 among blacks. The usual gap between men and women is essentially gone this week, at -44 and -46.

Partisan differences remain: The index is -13 among Republicans, compared with -48 among independents and -61 among Democrats.

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

NATIONAL ECONOMY – Twelve 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 – Forty-eight percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 47 percent last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 42 percent on March 14, 1993.

BUYING CLIMATE – Twenty-two percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 23 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000; the worst, 19 percent twice last month.

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