Economic Pessimism Eases

Economic pessimism has eased on the heels of the presidential election, with the number of Americans who say the economy’s worsening dropping to its lowest in 10 months.

Thirty-three percent in the latest ABC News/Money magazine poll say the economy’s getting worse, down from 42 percent last month to its lowest since January. There hasn’t been a surge in optimism, though -- 28 percent think the economy’s improving, about the same as in October. Rather, more think it’s holding steady.

Moderating gasoline prices might be playing a role; the average price per gallon has slipped to $1.97 from $2.04 a month ago. But with interviews conducted entirely post-election, the improvement in expectations might also indicate a softening of the strong interplay between economic and political views this election cycle. Pessimism declined across all political groups, with the largest drop among Democrats.

INDEX -- The ABC/Money magazine Consumer Comfort index, based on current ratings of the economy, buying climate and personal finances, stands at -6 on its scale of +100 to -100. That’s essentially unchanged from last week.

The index jumped by six points just in advance of Election Day, a highly unusual boost -- it’s risen by six points or more in a single week only six times in weekly polls since December 1985. Then, too, the increase came chiefly among Democrats.

Today, 43 percent of Americans rate the economy positively, the most since January and three points better than the 18-year average. Forty percent call it a good time to buy things, while more, 58 percent, say their own finances are good -- both about average.

TREND -- At -6, the ABC/"Money" index is just above its long-term average of -9, and much closer to its high for the year, -3 last January, than its low, -22 in March. The index peaked at +38 in January 2000 and bottomed out at -50 in February 1992.

It’s averaged -11 across 2004, better than its average of -19 in 2003. Its best yearly average was +29 in 2000; its worst, -44 in 1992.

GROUPS -- As usual, confidence is stronger among better-off Americans. The index is +45 among high-income people while -48 among those with the lowest incomes; +5 among college graduates while -30 among high-school dropouts; -2 among whites but -23 among blacks; and +5 among men but -15 among women.

The index is worse in the Northeast, -16, than in the Midwest, South or West. As has been the case all year, it’s far higher among Republicans (+25), than among independents (-14) or Democrats (-30). But that’s less of a gap than its peak: It was +43 among Republicans and -47 among Democrats in July.

Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News/"Money" index:

NATIONAL ECONOMY -- Forty-three percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was 41 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 -- Fifty-eight percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 57 percent last week. The best was 70 percent on Aug. 30, 1998, matched in January 2000. The worst was 42 percent on March 14, 1993.

BUYING CLIMATE -- Forty percent say it’s an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 42 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 20 percent in fall 1990.

METHODOLOGY -- The ABC News/Money magazine Consumer Comfort Index represents a rolling average based on telephone interviews with a random sample of about 1,000 adults nationwide each month. This week’s results are based on 1,000 interviews in the four weeks ending Nov. 14, 2004, and have an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points. The expectations question was asked of 500 respondents Nov. 3-14; that result has a 4.5-point margin of error. Field work was conducted by ICR-International Communications Research of Media, Pa.

The ABC News/Money index is derived as follows: The negative response to each index question is subtracted from the positive response to that question. The three resulting numbers are then 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 version with charts and data table.

See previous analyses in our Poll Vault.