Retailers breathed a small sigh of relief Thursday, as data showed consumer spending for the month of May was not as low as experts feared. It was a much-needed bit of good news; but consumer attitudes toward the economy remain ominous, as the public continues to pay more and more at the pump and the grocery store.
ABC News' Consumer Confidence Index [PDF] experienced a bump this week after months of trending downward. An uptick in respondents' rating of the buying climate was mostly responsible for the jump, a development which pollsters speculate could be attributed to the arrival of federal tax rebate checks. Twenty-three percent told ABC that now is a good time to make purchases -- still 15 points below the survey's long-term average, but up 4 points from last week's all-time low.
Still, only 12 percent were willing to rate the economy positively, down 19 points on the year, and people's rating of their personal finances sits at 47 percent, 10 points below the survey's average. The pollsters' analysis points out that, "even with this week's spike, confidence is in a dire situation," and that similar gains in March quickly dissipated.
Data from a CBS News poll [PDF] suggests that the factor most responsible for such consumer gloom is the cost of fuel. When asked to name the most important problem facing the country, 34 percent said the economy, with an additional 16 percent citing gas and heating oil prices specifically. That represents a 9-point increase since March and the first time gas prices have ranked higher than the war in Iraq on the list of respondents' biggest concerns.
A 36-percent plurality reported that rising gas prices have caused serious financial hardship for their households, with another 29 percent saying they have experienced problems, though not acute ones, due to fuel costs. And -- perhaps explaining the high level of consumer anxiety -- an overwhelming 89 percent of respondents said they expect prices to keep climbing.
The Boston Globe reports today that more and more Americans are tapping into retirement savings to pay their monthly bills, and nearly two-thirds of those polled by CBS claim that their current household income does not allow them to save any money. A forty-seven percent plurality said they had just enough money to cover their current bills, while 18 percent feared they would not even be able to meet their payments. And, as with gas prices, a majority predicted the overall state of the economy will get worse before it gets better; about one-quarter stated that things are staying the same and a scant three percent said economic conditions are improving.
Washington now appears clued in on the nation's economic woes. This week's National Journal Insiders Poll asked congressional insiders to name the "most urgent priority facing the next president and Congress in January"; both parties cited the economy over all else. Nearly six in 10 GOP insiders ranked the economy highest, with 44 percent of Democrats in agreement.
No Mind Changed On Climate Change
With the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act stalled in the Senate, the future of global warming legislation remains uncertain during this congressional term.
This should come as no surprise, given the stark differences in perspective between Republicans and Democrats on the science of global warming. According to National Journal's survey, the amount of agreement -- and disagreement -- on the topic has remained steady for the past two years. An overwhelming 95 percent of Democratic insiders said it's been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth is warming because of man-made pollution. More than three-quarters of GOP insiders, however, disagreed.
"If there's one thing poll after poll indicates, it's that the science is not settled on this issue," one Republican insider said. But one of the Democrats asserted that "science, around the world, is in agreement," and another quipped that "only an ostrich with its head in the sand would deny man-made global warming."