TOPICS > Economy

Consumer Confidence

June 5, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


PAUL SOLMAN: Last Tuesday, New York’s Conference Board released one of the country’s leading economic indicators: the Consumer Confidence Index. And in the story last Tuesday night we invited you, our viewers, to fill out roughly the same survey yourselves online.

By noon today, more than 1,500 of you had replied, so here are the results. One: how do you rate current business conditions? Good – 14 percent of you; Normal – 51 percent; Bad – 34 percent. How do you rate the current employment situation? 24 percent of you said good; 43 percent normal; 34 percent of you said bad.

What are your expectations for business conditions in six months? 29 percent said better; the same – 39 percent; worse – 32 percent. What are your expectations for the general employment situation in six months? Better – 21 percent of you; 40 percent of you said the same; 38 percent of you said worse.

And what are your expectations for your personal income in six months? Higher – 30 percent; the same – 50 percent; lower – 20 percent.

Now, as it happens, these results differ significantly from the actual 3,500-person Conference Board Survey. Those people were selected randomly, scientifically. Statisticians would call those of you who responded a biased sample. But what were the differences?

Here are the actual Conference Board results next to yours. How did they rate current business conditions? Good – 31 percent; Normal – 57 percent; Bad – 12 percent. In other words, they were much more positive about this than you. The current employment situation – well, Good – 39 percent; Normal – 46 percent; Bad – 15 percent. Again, they were more sanguine than you were.

Now, their expectations for business conditions in six months: Better – 17 percent; the same – 70 percent; worse – only 13 percent. Your forecasts were much more extreme. Their expectations for the general employment situation in six months: Better – only 14 percent; the same – a hefty 66 percent. Again, many more of them in the middle. Worse – 20 percent, compared to your 38 percent.

And finally their expectations for their personal income in six months: Higher – 25 percent; the same – a whopping 68 percent; and lower – a mere 7 percent, compared to your gloomy 20 percent.

Thus, as to current conditions NewsHour viewers – at least those of you who responded – are far more negative about the economy than a random sample of Americans. But when it comes to expectations, as measured by the last three questions, you’re both more pessimistic and more optimistic.

In fact, compared to the normal population, statistically you’re sort of bipolar, which raises one last question: Why do NewsHour viewers differ so from other Americans? Is it (a) NewsHour viewers are more prone to economic mood swings; (b) watching the NewsHour makes people bolder economic forecasters; (c) the Internet attracts economic extremists; or (d) something else entirely? We don’t know. But, in any case, these NewsHour data do support something both we and you have long suspected: You’re an unusual group of people.