POLL: Confidence in a Funk

Confidence flat this week in the face of mixed economic news, steep gas prices.

February 19, 2009, 1:18 AM

Nov. 6, 2007 — -- Consumer confidence was flat this week and stunk in a negative funk in the face of mixed economic news and steep gas prices.

The ABC News/Washington Post Consumer Comfort Index stands at -15 on its scale of +100 to -100, unchanged from last week. It's been in negative double-digits for more than three months, its longest run that low since late 2005, after Hurricane Katrina.

The pause comes during another week of mixed economic news. Gasoline broke the $3 mark and a quarter-point cut in the Fed's funds rate wasn't enough to ease the volatile stock market, with the Dow down 362 points last Thursday. At the same time the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported significant job growth in October, and GDP had its best quarterly growth in a year and a half.

Whatever those indicators, the economic climate clearly has most Americans worried. In a separate ABC News/Washington Post poll this week, nearly seven in 10 Americans called it very or somewhat likely that there'll be a recession in the year ahead.

Concerns about a recession peak among women and blacks. But even among Republicans -- generally a more bullish group -- 61 percent think a recession is at least somewhat likely, along with 75 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of independents.

INDEX -- The ABC/Post CCI is based on Americans' ratings of the national economy, personal finances and the buying climate. Rating of personal finances, unchanged this week, are the strongest of the three measures -- 58 percent rate them positively, about matching the long-term average in weekly polls since late 1985.

Thirty-six percent call it a good time to buy things, also unchanged from last week, and 33 percent rate the national economy positively -- matching a recent low in early September, and 7 points below the 2007 average.

TREND -- Confidence started well in 2007, with the index hovering around positive territory from January to March. But the year's been marked by two sharp drops -- first in April and May, then again in August, when the index fell sharply to its lowest of the year. It's remained in negative double digits since.

Even with its recent slump, the CCI's average so far this year, -9, is its best since +4 in 2001. Over its lifetime the index has ranged as high as +38, in January 2000, and as low as -50, in February 1992. Its long-term average is -9, same as its average this year.

GROUPS -- As usual the CCI is higher in better-off groups. It's +31 among higher-income people while -70 among those with the lowest incomes, -3 among those who've been to college while -38 among high-school dropouts and -8 among whites but -54 among blacks. Unusually, there's no significant gender gap this week.

Partisan differences remain: The index is +14 among Republicans, but -20 among independents and -30 among Democrats.

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

NATIONAL ECONOMY -- Thirty-three 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 7 percent in late 1991 and early 1992.

PERSONAL FINANCES -- Fifty-eight percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 58 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-six 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 Nov. 4, 2007. The results have a three-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.