Hard Luck for Confidence

cci/ABC News

Consumer confidence is flat this week, grinding out what's so far been its worst year in nearly a generation of weekly ABC News polls.

ABC's Consumer Comfort Index, based on Americans' ratings of current economic conditions, stands at a dreadful -47 on its scale of +100 to -100, almost exactly matching its 2009 average and within sight of its record low -54 in late January.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

The index had eked out a gain to -42 in April and early May, but then fell back in the face of rising gasoline prices. Compare its level now to its long-term average, -12, much less its high, +38 in the long-lost go-go days of January 2000.

Factors include not just gas – up 58 cents since late April to $2.62 a gallon – but also unemployment, now 9.4 percent, up half a point this month to the highest since 1983.

INDEX – Measures of views that the worst may be over have been brighter, boosted largely by hopes held by supporters of President Obama. But the CCI is based on the harder reality of current assessments of the buying climate, the national economy and personal finances. And these are not good:

-Only 8 percent rate the economy positively, in single digits for 33 of the last 35 weeks and 30 points below the long-term average.

-Twenty-seven percent say it's a good time to buy things, up 5 points since mid-April to the most since March 2008. But it's still just 9 points above the all-time low in October and August, and 10 points below the long-term average.

-Forty-five percent rate their personal finances positively, typically the best of the three measures. That's down 7 points in the past month – the steepest such decline since May 2008 – to just 4 points from the record low in January, and 12 points below average.

TREND –Since mid-April the CCI has been stuck in a 7-point range from -42 on May 10, the year's best, to last week's -49. The only glimmer is that it's been above -50 for eight weeks straight, its best such run since August.

At -47, the CCI is 1 point from its 2009 average and 3 points below its worst annual average, -44 in 1992. It's been below -40 for a record 59 weeks and hasn't seen positive territory in more than two years.

GROUPS – The CCI is higher as usual among better-off Americans, but negative across the board for the 15th straight week. It's -16 among those with the highest incomes while -72 among those with the lowest, -35 among those who've attended college vs. -63 among high school dropouts and -44 among homeowners but with -54 among renters.

Most unusual is the absence of a racial gap this week: The CCI is the same among whites, 2 points from their record low in January as among blacks – -48 in both groups. That's occurred just twice before, in November 1996 and last December, in available data since 1990. The average gap has been 28 points.

The gender and partisan gaps are also smaller than usual. The 4-point gender gap (-45 among men while -49 among women – their best since September) is the narrowest since last fall and smaller than the long-term average difference, 17 points. And the 10-point partisan difference (-39 among Republicans vs. -49 among Democrats and -49 among independents) is far smaller than the long-term gap, 33 points.

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 7 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 4 percent Feb. 8.

PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-five percent say their own finances are excellent or good, the same as last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 41 percent Jan. 25.

BUYING CLIMATE – Twenty-seven percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 24 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 18 percent Oct. 19, Aug. 10 and Aug. 24, 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 June 7, 2009. 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.