Consumer Confidence 2009: Worst Year on Record

Just 8 Percent of Americans Rate the Economy Positively

Analysis by Peyton M. Craighill

Dec. 29, 2009 —

Consumer confidence plowed through its worst year in 24 years of weekly polls, weighted down by abysmal ratings of the national economy.

This week's ABC News Consumer Comfort Index stands at -44 on its scale of +100 to -100, halting three weeks of positive momentum when it matched its yearly high last week at -42.

Click here for PDF with charts and data table.

The CCI has averaged -48 this year, 6 points lower than last year when the economy plunged into the worst recession in a generation and 4 points lower than its previous year-long low, -44 in 1992. In comparison, the CCI has averaged -12 in weekly polls since late 1985.

INDEX – The index is based on ratings of the national economy, the buying climate and personal finances. Ratings of the economy, at just 8 percent positive, are the worst of the three measures by far. This week they match their 2009 average and are 30 points below their long-term average.

Forty-seven percent say their own finances are in good shape, 2 points better than its 2009 averaged but 10 points worse than its long-term average.

Ratings of the buying climate – which were on a nine week stretch of improvement – halted this week at 29 percent positive. It finishes the year 4 points better than its year-long average but 8 points worse than its long-term average.

TREND – This week, the index continued its pattern of slight progress then stalling, underscoring the fickle nature of consumer sentiment. The best ratings the CCI could muster in 2009 was -42 last week and also in May. The worst was -54 in January, matching the lowest measure ever.

The CCI has been below -40 for a record 88 consecutive weeks and hasn't seen positive territory since March 2007.

GROUPS – The index, as usual, is higher among better-off Americans, but has been negative across the board for 44 weeks straight, the longest such run in data since 1990.

It's -8 among those with the highest incomes but -68 among those with the lowest, -34 among people who've attended college vs. -55 among high school dropouts, -31 among men while -54 among women, -40 among homeowners while -49 among renters and -40 among whites vs. -57 among blacks.

Partisan differences remain, but they're much attenuated. The CCI's -40 among Republicans, compared with -50 among Democrats and -37 among independents. That 10-point Democratic-Republican gap compares with a 17-point gap in 2009, 41 points last year and 32 points long-term.

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 7 percent last week. The highest was 80 percent Jan. 16, 2000. The worst was 4 percent Feb. 8, 2009.

PERSONAL FINANCES – Forty-seven percent say their own finances are excellent or good; it was 50 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-nine percent say it's an excellent or good time to buy things; it was 30 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 Dec. 27, 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.