By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- New York consumers are more optimistic about the future than they have been in five years, a Siena College poll released Wednesday showed.
The survey, conducted in September through random phone calls to 800 New Yorkers, measured people's willingness to spend as opposed to their ability to spend. The index is on a scale of 1 to 150 points, and 75 points is the break-even threshold between pessimism and optimism.
Respondents' future optimism increased by almost six points since August, to 80.3, the highest since March 2007. That's higher than the nation's future optimism rating of 73.5.
And state consumers' overall confidence -- which takes into consideration their current and future optimism -- is on par with the nation's; New York's index is 78.2 points while the nation's is 78.3.
"Today, a five-point plurality of New Yorkers expect business conditions to improve over the coming year and twice as many residents think their personal situation will improve as anticipate declines," Doug Lonnstrom, founding director of the Siena Research Institute, said in a statement. "This is the most optimistic overall numbers we've seen in recent years."
The Albany-area college's survey also found that the gap between the optimism for the future reported by Democrats and Republicans is the highest ever, and Democrats' future outlook is at its highest point since the end of Bill Clinton's presidency.
Democrats' future outlook is 100.2 points, a 10.4 increase from the previous month. Their overall outlook is 95 points -- both scores well into the realm of optimism. Republicans, though, are pessimistic about the future at 58.4 points and 58 points overall.
"With the election only a month away, New York consumers may be voting with their economic outlook," Lonnstrom said.
Besides Democrats, several other demographic groups fall above New Yorkers' average overall outlook, including higher income respondents, those living in New York City, men and those under age 55. Older respondents, women, those with lower incomes, upstate New York residents and Republicans fall below the average.
Plans to buy cars, trucks and furniture are up in September, but concern over the impact gas and food prices are having on consumers' budgets remains high across the state, according to the poll.
Plans to buy a home are at 3.5 percent, up slightly from 3 percent last September, but down from the peak in May at 5.7 percent.
As consumer confidence is expressed as an index number developed after statistical calculations to a series of questions, "margin of error" does not apply.