PRINCETON, NJ -- U.S. economic confidence remained relatively stable last week with an Economic Confidence Index score of -22, similar to the -23 of the prior week but down slightly from the -20 of the first full week of the month. Economic confidence remains slightly better compared with the month of January and a year ago.
Economic confidence has been improving steadily over the past five months and is continuing that monthly trend during February. The stable nature of confidence in recent weeks suggests that surging gas prices have yet to dramatically affect Americans' perceptions of the national economy.
The Gallup Economic Confidence Index is an average of two components: Americans' ratings of current economic conditions and their outlook for the economy.
The pronounced increase in economic confidence so far in 2012 has been driven largely by a sharp increase in consumers' feelings about the U.S. economy's future direction, but this has not been the case during the past two weeks. The economic outlook rating -- based on whether Americans think the economy is "getting better" or "getting worse" -- fell modestly to -15 and -16 in the last two weeks from -12 during the week ending Feb. 12. Last week, 40% of Americans said the economy is getting better, while 56% said it is getting worse.
On the other hand, the current conditions rating -- a measure of how Americans rate economic conditions today -- improved to -28 from -31 in the prior week. Last week, 42% of Americans rated the economy "poor," no different from the 41% of the first week of the month.
In spite of its modest decline during the past two weeks, Americans' economic confidence remains near the highest it has been at various points over the past four years. Since Gallup started tracking economic confidence daily in 2008, the highest weekly average has been -18 in February 2011.
Americans remain surprisingly optimistic about the U.S. economy in the face of surging gas prices. It may be that continued optimism on Wall Street, general perceptions that the economy is improving slowly if modestly, and the government's positive jobs report from January are offsetting the expected negative psychological impact of rapidly increasing prices at the pump. Or, it may be that gas prices have not yet reached a level at which Americans feel they may hurt the economy as a whole.
This resilience of American consumers' economic confidence may be challenged during the weeks ahead. Gallup's data suggest that the unemployment situation has deteriorated during February. It also may be that the rise in gas prices has been so sudden that its reflection in consumer perceptions -- let alone consumer behaviors -- may not yet be reflected in Gallup's survey data. Gallup's consumer spending measure also declined last week -- although it is also likely far too early to draw conclusions from those results.
Regardless, it seems clear that when Gallup's and others' monthly economic confidence results for February are reported, the data will show a sixth straight month of improvement. However, this monthly view may obscure a surge in economic confidence that came at the beginning of the month and may have already dissipated.
Gallup.com reports results from these indexes in daily, weekly, and monthly averages and in Gallup.com stories. Complete trend data are always available to view and export in the following charts:
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Results are based on telephone interviews conducted weekly as part of Gallup Daily tracking with a random sample of more than 3,000 adults aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.
Results for the week ending Feb. 26, 2012, are based on 3,336 telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking with adults aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling. For results based on this weekly sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.