The Democrats at their convention, and the Republicans at theirs, just might want to drop in a word or two about the economy.
The reason: Americans are unhappy about it. In a big way.
Consumer confidence is back this week to a single point from its all-time low in weekly ABC News surveys since 1985. Assessments of the buying climate have tied their weakest on record.
ABC's Consumer Comfort Index stands at -50 on its scale of +100 to -100, a point from its all-time low of -51 on May 25. Just 11 percent say the national economy is in good shape, 18 percent call it a good time to buy things and 46 percent – fewer than half – rate their personal finances positively.
Economic concerns are far and away the top election issue: In a separate ABC News/Washington Post poll this week 43 percent of registered voters called the economy the most important issue in their vote, the most this election cycle. Barack Obama holds an 11-point lead over John McCain on trust to handle it, 50-39 percent.
Gasoline prices, while down 42 cents from mid-July, are still 34 percent higher than last year (currently $3.69 per gallon nationally). And there are other factors: Inflation's up, unemployment's up and home values are down – a reported 15.4 percent drop during the second quarter from a year before.
INDEX – This is the 20th straight week that fewer than a quarter of Americans have said it's an excellent or good time to buy things, the longest such stretch on record.
Positive ratings of the economy, for their part, have been at or below 15 percent for the last 20 weeks. They're down 20 points on the year and 28 points off their long-term average.
Ratings of personal finances, at 46 percent positive, down from 52 percent in July and only 4 points off that all-time low. Traditionally the index's strongest component, ratings of personal finances are down 12 points on the year and 11 points off the long-term average.
TREND – After ending 2007 at -20, 15 points worse than it began the year, the CCI accelerated downward through the beginning of this year to its new record low in May. It improved slightly, but stalled at -41 last month and then faltered, dropping to -50 two weeks ago and again this week. It's been 19 weeks since the index was above -40.
Averaging -39 for 2008, the CCI is on track for its second-worst year on record. (It averaged -44 in 1992). It's 40 points below its long-term average and miles from its record high, +38 in January 2000.
GROUPS – The index is higher in better-off groups, but negative across the board: it's -9 among those with the highest incomes vs. -71 among those with the lowest incomes, -41 among people who've been to college vs. -60 among high-school dropouts and -46 among whites while -69 among blacks. The usual gender gap is gone this week, with the index at -48 and -51 among men and women, respectively.
In the midst of the Democratic convention, partisan differences remain strong: The index is -28 among Republicans, -50 among independents and -63 among Democrats.
Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News CCI:
NATIONAL ECONOMY – Eleven percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good, 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-six 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 – A record-low 18 percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 19 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000.
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 August 24, 2008. The results have a 3-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.