Confidence at Historic Low As Holidays Approach

Just eight percent of Americans rate the economy positively.

Nov. 25, 2008— -- Consumer confidence is stuck this week at its lowest in 22 years of weekly polls, a dark sign for so-called Black Friday, the traditional Christmas shopping kickoff.

The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index is unchanged at -52 on its +100 to -100 scale, its third week at or below -50. Just 8 percent of Americans rate the economy positively, 21 percent call it a good time to buy things and 43 percent say their personal finances are good – each near its record low individually, and matching last week's low in aggregate.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

Sagging confidence accompanies a range of grim indicators – a record drop in home prices, shrinking third-quarter GDP, rising unemployment, retail troubles and continued upheaval in the financial world. While gas prices have eased – at $1.89 it's their first week since early 2005 below $2 a gallon – other concerns have swamped consumers.

There are other indications of the tough road ahead for retailers in their critical holiday season. In a separate ABC News poll last week, 68 percent said they planned to wait for holiday sales, 51 percent planned to spend less this year than last – the most by far since 1991 – and average intended spending was down sharply.

INDEX – The CCI, as noted, is based on Americans' ratings of their current finances, the national economy and the buying climate. Positive ratings of personal finances are down 15 points on the year to a point from their record low in March 1993. Fewer than a majority have rated their finances positively for 18 weeks straight, the longest since a 40-week stretch from 1992-93.

Ratings of the buying climate have been steady the past month but are just 3 points from their all-time low and 17 points below their 22-year average. And ratings of the national economy are a point from their low, down 23 points this year and 31 points off their average.

TREND – At -52, the CCI matches its record low and continues in deep negative territory. After starting the year at -20, it's been at or below -50 seven times in 2008, a record. And it's been at or below -40 for 32 weeks straight, the second longest streak on record, beaten only in late 1991 to mid-1992.

The index has averaged -41 for the year, the second worst on record, surpassed only by -44 in 1992. That compares with its long-term average of -11 and a high of +38 in January 2000.

GROUPS – The CCI has been negative across demographic groups for 22 straight weeks, but there are differences, chiefly influenced by economic attainment. It's -21 among people with the highest incomes compared with -76 among those with the lowest, -47 among those who've been to college (their lowest since March 1991) vs. -68 among high-school dropouts and -81 among blacks (matching their lowest on record) vs. -47 among whites. The index is -80 among renters (a record low) vs. -44 among homeowners.

Partisan differences are the narrowest they've been since March 2002, with Republicans now at -35, their lowest since early 1992 and just 2 points off their all-time low. The index is -62 among Democrats and -52 among independents.

The index is -62 in the Northeast, the worst in any region in polls since 1990. It's better, -45, in the South, while the Midwest and West are in between, -52 and -56, respectively

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; last week's 7 percent matched the low set in late 1991 and early 1992. The highest was 80 percent on Jan. 16, 2000.

PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-three percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 44 percent last week. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000. The worst was 42 percent on March 14, 1993.

BUYING CLIMATE – Twenty-one percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things, same as last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 18 percent this Oct. 19 and Aug. 10 and 24.

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. 23, 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.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.