POLL: With Gustav Gone, Economy's Still Stormy

Consumer Confidence Lowest Since GOP Lost White House in 1992

Analysis by Madeleine Perez

Sept. 2, 2008—

Hurricane Gustav's blown through, but the Republican National Convention still faces a more long-running storm: Consumer confidence, in the tank all year, is its lowest since the GOP lost the White House in 1992.

The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -47 on its scale of +100 to -100, off the -50 floor but still a dismal reading. Its record low in 22 years of weekly polls was -51 in late May; compare these to its long-term average, -10.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

The challenge is how the Republicans respond. George W. Bush this weekend suggested the economy's improving, citing GDP growth. But GDP was up in 1992, only then -- as now -- in a way that wasn't much felt on Main Street. Financial concerns clearly are still stressing consumers (the Commerce Department Friday reported the biggest drop in personal incomes in nearly three years) and the economy remains the top election issue.

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll last week, John McCain trailed Barack Obama in trust to handle the economy by 11 points, 50-39 percent. That's some of the ground McCain may hope to make up in St. Paul this week.

INDEX -- The CCI is based on Americans' ratings of their current finances, the national economy and the buying climate. Fewer than half have rated their personal finances positively for six weeks straight; this week's 45 percent ties the 2008 low set May 25, and it's only 3 points better than the record low in March 1993.

Far fewer, 21 percent, say it's an excellent or good time to buy things, fewer than 25 percent for a record 21st straight week, down 10 points on the year and 17 points off the long-term average.

Fewer still, 13 percent, say the national economy's in good shape, at or below 15 percent also for the 21st straight week. These are down 18 points this year and 26 points off the long-term average.

TREND -- The index spiraled down from -20 at the start of the year to -51 in May, recovered somewhat to -41 in July, then fell back to -50 three weeks ago and again last week. Today's -47 is its best since the end of July, if very far from good.

The CCI has averaged -39 this year, not far from its worst annual average, -44 in 1992. It peaked at +38 in January 2000, averaging +29 that year.

GROUPS -- The index is higher in better-off groups, but negative across the board: It's -6 among people with the highest incomes vs. -75 among those with the lowest incomes, -37 among people who've been to college vs. -64 among high-school dropouts and -45 among whites while -59 among blacks. The gender gap is still narrower than usual, -44 and -50 among men and women, respectively.

Partisan differences are strong, but the index is negative across party lines, from -24 among Republicans to -50 among independents and -63 among Democrats.

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

NATIONAL ECONOMY -- Thirteen percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was 11 percent 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-five percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 46 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-one percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was a record low 18 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 31, 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.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.