Post-ABC CCI: Battling High Pump Prices
Despite steadily increasing gasoline prices, the Washington Post-ABC News Consumer Comfort Index (CCI) has nudged upwards over the past two weeks, buoyed by the highest personal finance ratings since last fall.
This week the Post-ABC CCI stands at -3 on its scale from -100 to +100, after several weeks hovering around -7, its low for the year. The index now matches its average for 2007, and remains above its long-term average of -9 in weekly polls since 1985.
The modest improvement in consumer confidence has been driven primarily by an uptick in Americans' assessment of their personal financial situation. This week, 65 percent said their finances are in "excellent" or "good" shape; that's the most to say so since November.
Personal finances are one of the three core components of the CCI, and the only one to get better over the past two weeks. The other two measures, a rating of the national economy and the buying climate, have hardly budged. And it's the public's assessment about whether this is a good or bad time to buy things that bears watching.
Historically, ratings of the buying climate and the CCI more broadly have been closely linked to gas prices, which have spiked recently. Yesterday, the Department of Energy reported that the average cost of a gallon of gas topped three dollars for the first time since August. At a national average of $3.05, pump prices are a mere two cents shy of their nominal record set in September 2005.
How long personal finance ratings can stay afloat in the face of high fuel prices is an open question as the summer driving season approaches. For now, relatively low unemployment and wage gains counterbalance the pain at the pump, at least some of it.
In the latest Washinton Post-ABC News poll, 67 percent of Americans said increases in gas prices have already caused them financial hardship, 36 percent say it has been a "serious" hardship.
Westerners feel the impact most acutely: in the region with the highest average gas prices in the nation, four in ten residents say recent increases have caused serious financial hardship.
|Yes, NET||Yes, serious hardship||Yes, not serious hardship||No hardship|
Full question wording available
And what's ahead? In a CNN poll released this week, many Americans said they anticipate continued increases in fuel costs: 45 percent said it's "very likely" that prices will rise to $4 per gallon this year, and 10 percent said a gallon would likely set them back $5 within the year.
When asked in an ABC News poll last summer - when prices teetered on $3 a gallon - how high pump prices would have to go before they started to cut back on driving, the average answer was $4.16 a gallon.
METHODOLOGY: The Washington Post-ABC News Consumer Comfort Index (CCI) is a rolling average based on telephone interviews with 1,000 randomly selected adults nationwide conducted over the previous four-week period. Interviewing for this week's data concluded on May 6, 2007. New data are released every Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Additional information is available at www.washingtonpost.com/polls.
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