POLL: Confidence Edges Up, But Expectations Are Grim

Sept. 18, 2007 — -- Consumer confidence is up from its 2007 low mark, but optimism about the economy's future has hit its lowest point in nearly 15 years.

The ABC News/Washington Post Consumer Comfort Index now stands at -15 on its scale of +100 to -100, up from -20 a month ago. While a bit better, the index is still below its annual and long-term averages.

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In a separate measure of expectations, just eight percent of Americans express positive views about the future economy, the fewest since October 1992. Far more, 49 percent, think the economy's getting worse, well above the 26-year average of 39 percent, perhaps in reaction to the variety of recent negative economic news, including a poor August jobs report, slowing retail sales, and a slumping housing market.

INDEX -- The index is based on Americans' ratings of the national economy, personal finances and the buying climate. In this week's CCI, 34 percent say it's a good time to buy things, nine points below its 2007 peak. About as many, 36 percent, rate the economy positively, 12 points below its high this year. More, 57 percent, say their personal finances are OK; that's eight points off its 2007 high.

EXPECTATIONS -- Optimism, as noted, is at its lowest point in nearly 15 years, with only eight percent saying the economy is getter better. Forty-nine percent say the economy is worsening, down from a 2007 high of 57 percent last month.

Optimism is now 12 points lower than its long-term average in polls since March 1981 and 10 points lower than its 2007 high. It is, however, above its all-time low of three percent in October 1990.

Both optimism and pessimism are decreasing as more people are on the fence this month. Forty-one percent think the economy is "staying the same" this month, up 15 points from last month, and the most since February.

TREND -- The CCI has backed off its 2007 low of -20 on Aug. 19, gaining five points over the past month. Still, at -15, the ABC/Post index is seven points below its 2007 average (-8), 17 points off of its 2007 high (+2 on March 11) and six points below its average since the start of this weekly survey in late 1985. The CCI peaked at +38 in January 2000 and bottomed out at -50 in February 1992.

GROUPS -- As usual the CCI is higher in better-off groups. It's +17 among higher-income people while -64 among those with the lowest incomes, zero among those who've been to college while -40 among high-school dropouts, -9 among whites but -47 among blacks, and -5 among men vs. -24 among women.

The partisan gap remains unusually wide for another week: The index is +34 among Republicans, -23 among independents and -38 among Democrats. The 72-point difference between Republicans and Democrats is the same as last week -- the largest partisan differences since early January 2006.

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

NATIONAL ECONOMY -- Thirty-six percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was 34 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The lowest was seven percent in late 1991 and early 1992.

PERSONAL FINANCES -- Fifty-seven percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 54 percent last week. The best was 70 percent last reached in January 2000. The worst was 42 percent on March 14, 1993.

BUYING CLIMATE -- Thirty-four percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 36 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 20 percent in fall 1990.

METHODOLOGY -- Interviews for the ABC News/Washington Post 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 Sept. 16, 2007. The results have a three-point error margin. The expectations question was asked of 500 respondents Sept. 5-16; that result has a 4.5-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.

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