Oct. 28, 2008 -- Two points from its low in 22 years of weekly polls, consumer confidence has been here before – just in advance of the economy-driven election of 1992.
Uninspired by a six-week drop in gasoline prices, the ABC News Consumer Confidence Index stands at -49 on its scale of +100 to -100. Its worst on record was -51 in late May, and it last saw these levels in the hangover from the 1990-91 recession. A week before the 1992 election, when economic discontent cost George H.W. Bush his job, it was -48.
Just 19 percent of Americans rate the buying climate positively, a point from the lowest on record, also matched last week. Eight percent rate the national economy positively, also a point from the low, and fewer than half say their own finances are good.
In a separate ABC News/Washington Post election tracking poll 54 percent of likely voters say their top issue is the economy, far and away No. 1, and they favor Barack Obama by a 19-point margin. Obama also leads John McCain by 9 points in trust to handle the economy, down from an 18-point Obama advantage last week.
Gas prices have fallen $1.18 a gallon over the past six weeks to $2.66, their lowest since March 25, 2007. But gasoline's been overshadowed by the global economic crisis, with recession looming, home prices diving, banks failing and the stock market down 473 points last week.
INDEX – As noted, positive ratings of the buying climate are 19 percent, a point off the lowest since 1985, hit just last week. Even fewer, 8 percent, rate the economy positively, down 23 points this year and 31 points off the long-term average.
The usual stronghold of the index, ratings of personal finances, are 49 percent positive, only a little better than the 45 percent it hit in early September, but still down 9 points for the year and 8 points from the long-term average.
TREND – The CCI is a long way from where it was a year ago, -15, and its path since then has been tumultuous. It sustained eight significant week-to-week drops in the past year – more than twice the yearly average for such drops.
The index hit a record low -51 on May 25, improved to -41 briefly in July and September, but each time fell back to within a point of that low.
This week's -49 compares with a long-term average of -11 and a best of +38 in January 2000. It's averaged -40 this year, second lowest only to 1992's average of -44.
GROUPS – The index is higher as usual in better-off groups but negative across the board for the 18th straight week. It's -9 among those with the highest incomes vs. -78 among those with the lowest, -43 among people who've been to college vs. -70 among high-school dropouts, -64 among blacks vs. -46 among whites, -67 among renters vs. -43 among homeowners and -44 for men vs. -53 for women. It's -62 among the unemployed, -36 for people with full-time jobs.
Sharp partisan differences remain: The index is -64 among Democrats, -54 among independents and -21 among Republicans.
Here's a closer look at the three components of the ABC News CCI:
NATIONAL ECONOMY – Eight percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good; it was the same last week. The highest was 80 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The lowest was 7 percent in late 1991 and early 1992.
PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-nine percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was the same last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 42 percent on March 14, 1993.
BUYING CLIMATE –Nineteen percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 18 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 18 percent, Aug. 10 and 24, and last week.
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 Oct. 26, 2008. 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.