Confidence Backs Off the Ledge… a Little

Just 11 percent of Americans rate the economy positively.

Nov. 10, 2009 — -- Consumer confidence has inched ahead in the past two weeks to its best in a month – but it's still mired in deeply negative territory.

The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -46 on its scale of +100 to -100, up 5 points from Oct. 25 in its best two-week gain since April. Nevertheless the index remains 34 points below its long-term average and on pace for its worst year in 23 years of weekly polls.

Click here for a PDF with charts and data table.

While GDP and other measures are better, there's good reason consumer confidence is lagging. Unemployment was reported Friday to have hit 10.2 percent in October, its first time in double digits since June 1983. And it's 17.5 percent including discouraged workers, people who want a job but have given up looking.

INDEX – Forty-five percent of Americans now rate their personal finances positively, the most since late September and up 6 points from its low in June, but still a dreary rating – 12 points below average and fewer than a majority for 26 weeks straight and all but two weeks this year.

One quarter rate the buying climate positively, up 4 points in two weeks but still 12 points below the long-term average. This measure has been below 30 percent for a record 87 weeks.

Positive ratings of the national economy, at 11 percent, have been in double digits for eight consecutive weeks. But at a remarkable 27 points below average, they're in terrible shape.

TREND – The CCI is only 8 points from its record low, -54 in January; it's been below -40 for a record 81 weeks straight and has not seen positive territory since March 2007.

The index has averaged -48 so far this year; its worst full-year average was -44 in 1992. Its record high was +38 in January 2000.

GROUPS – As usual, the index is higher among better-off Americans but has been negative across the board for 37 weeks straight, the longest such run in data since 1990.

It's -25 among those with the highest incomes but -78 among those with the lowest, -35 among people who've attended college vs. -65 among high school dropouts (the best since August), -41 among men while -50 among women, -42 among homeowners compared with -52 among renters (the best since May), and -46 among whites vs. -53 among blacks. This week's 7-point racial gap is narrower than usual – it's averaged 28 points long-term.

Partisan differences remain, but are smaller than usual, with the index at -35 among Republicans vs. -50 among Democrats and -42 among independents (the best since August). That 15-point partisan gap compares with a 32-point difference long-term.

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

NATIONAL ECONOMY – Eleven percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was 10 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 4 percent Feb. 8, 2009.

PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-five percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 42 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-five 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, 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. 8, 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.