Nov. 3, 2009 -- A year after Barack Obama was elected president, consumer confidence is as dire now as it was then.
The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -49 on its scale of +100 to -100, just a point from its level at this time last year. Indeed it's averaged -49 since Obama's election, twice hitting its worst ever (-54 in early December and late January) and never exceeding -42. That compares with a long-term average of -12.
Low consumer confidence could spell trouble for incumbents today – and potentially in 2010 as well. In the long-running fallout from the last deep recession in 1990-91, Democrats in 1994 lost control of Congress for the first time in 42 years.
While the CCI's about the same, the partisan complexion of confidence has changed sharply since the 2008 election; the index among Republicans is down 22 points, to -38; among Democrats, up 15 points to -49. (Still lower among Democrats, who tend to be less well off.) It's remained about the same among independents, -51.
As a result, confidence is less partisan than a year ago – an 11-point gap now vs. 48 points then.
Americans overall seem unimpressed by news of positive Q3 growth in the gross domestic product – an increase for the first time since Q2 2008. With unemployment at 9.8 percent, a 26-year high, improved GDP figures alone are unlikely to improve consumer confidence.
INDEX – The CCI is based on Americans' ratings of the buying climate, their personal finances and the national economy. Ratings of the buying climate are now 24 percent positive, up 3 points from last week's yearly low. Still, positive ratings are 13 points below the long-term average and have been below 30 percent for a record 86 weeks.
Ratings of personal finances, typically the best of the CCI's three measures, are at 42 percent positive, 15 points below average. They've been below a majority for 25 weeks straight and all but two weeks this year.
Positive ratings of the national economy, at 10 percent, have been in double digits for seven consecutive weeks. But at a whopping 28 points below average, they're in terrible shape.
TREND – At -49 this week, the CCI's broken out of its two-week funk at -50 or lower, but just barely. It's averaged -48 this year, a dismal level. As noted, its long-term average is -12; its record high is +38, its worst previous year, -44 in 1992.
The CCI's been below -40 for a record 80 weeks and hasn't been positive since March 2007.
GROUPS – As usual, the index is higher among better-off Americans but has been negative across the board for 36 weeks straight, the longest such run in data since 1990.
It's -25 among those with the highest incomes (the worst since August) but -79 among those with the lowest, -37 among people who've attended college vs. -77 among high school dropouts, -44 among men while -55 among women, -46 among homeowners (the worst since May) compared with -57 among renters (the best since August), and -50 among whites (2 points from the low) vs. -56 among blacks. The last is far different from the usual 28-point racial gap.
Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News CCI:
NATIONAL ECONOMY – Ten percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good, the same as last week. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 4 percent Feb. 8, 2009.
PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-two percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 43 percent last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 39 percent June 28 and 21, 2009.
BUYING CLIMATE – Twenty-four percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 21 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 18 percent, last reached Oct. 19, 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 Nov. 1, 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.