Confidence Near Record Low

Ninety-five percent of Americans say the economy's in bad shape

Feb. 3, 2009 — -- A full month into 2009 consumer confidence is off to its worst yearly start in weekly polling since late 1985.

The ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -52 on its scale of +100 to -100, 2 points from last week's record-tying low. It's averaged -51 so far this year, its worst opening month of a new year by far. The previous low for a full January was -46 in 1992.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

Indeed the CCI has been at or below -50 a dozen times since August – a level it'd previously seen just twice before, in May 2008 and February 1992.

Dismal ratings of the economy are leading the way: Ninety-five percent say it's in bad shape, the third straight week at this record high. Three-quarters call it a bad time to buy things and 57 percent rate their own finances negatively.

Other data echo the CCI. Fourth-quarter GDP was its worst since 1982, with economic output down 3.8 percent; "mass layoffs" in 2008 (cutting 50 or more workers at once) reached their highest annual total in seven years.

INDEX – As noted, virtually no one has a good word to say about the national economy; just 5 percent rate it positively, 34 points below the long-term average. Fewer than one in 10 have rated the economy positively for 13 weeks, matching the streak set in 1992.

Twenty-four percent rate the buying climate positively, 14 points from the long-term average, albeit 6 points higher than its record low in October and August.

In the third and traditionally highest rating, 43 percent rate their own finances positively, also 14 points off the long-term average. Its 28 weeks below a majority is surpassed by a 40-week run at that level in 1992-93.

TREND – The CCI's been in a downward trend since 2007, when it averaged -2 in Q1 and fell to -18 by Q4. That steepened to -31 in Q1 2008, continuing down to -50 in Q4 2008, its worst quarter on record. This year it's averaged -51, compared with a long-term average of -11. The index averaged -42 last year, its second-worst ever.

As noted, the CCI hit -50 or lower just once from late 1985 through 2007 – but then did so 10 times last year, and now three times this year. It's miles from its record high, +38 in January 2000.

GROUPS – The CCI is higher as usual among better-off groups, but negative across the board for the 32nd straight week. It's -7 among those with the highest incomes (their best in three months) compared with -76 among those with the lowest, -45 among those who've attended college vs. -64 among high school dropouts, -46 among men while -57 among women, -47 among homeowners vs. -68 among renters and -49 among whites vs. -63 among blacks.

Partisan differences remain: The index is -34 among Republicans vs. -61 among Democrats and -52 among independents.

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

NATIONAL ECONOMY – Five percent of Americans rate the economy as excellent or good, matching the record low the last two weeks. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000.

PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-three percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 41 percent last week, a new low. The best was 70 percent, last reached in January 2000.

BUYING CLIMATE – Twenty-four percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 23 percent last week. The best was 57 percent on Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 18 percent Oct. 19, Aug. 10 and Aug. 24, 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 Feb. 2, 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.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.