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Siena poll finds slipping consumer confidence in New York

The CVS store on Central Avenue in Albany closed in mid-January.
Dave Lucas
The CVS store on Central Avenue in Albany closed in mid-January.

Consumer sentiment in New York state is down three points from the last quarter, with growing concern about food and gas prices driving unease. That’s according to a new pollfrom the Siena College Research Institute, which finds the New York State Index of Consumer Sentiment now stands at 70.5. That’s still 2.4 points above the national index. But the current and future indexes both dropped three points.

Future confidence in New York is now two points below the breakeven point, but remains seven points higher than national future confidence. For a breakdown of the numbers, WAMC’s Ian Pickus spoke with poll director Dr. Don Levy:

What stands out to you in the poll?

We saw a drop over the last quarter in optimism across virtually every single group in New York State. It's not as low as we've seen it other points. But what's noteworthy is that every single group, whether Democrats, Republicans, New York City residents, older, younger, everybody slipped in confidence over this quarter. And this survey was taken before the recent turmoil in the House of Representatives and of course, before the events in Israel and the Gaza Strip over the weekend.

So right now, we see sort of a retrenchment amongst New Yorkers. When you look down each and every question: Are you better off today than you were a year ago? Do you think that business conditions are going to improve over the next year? Is this a good time to buy major items? And we see pluralities saying no, no and no. The only question, and this is sort of the dogged optimism question, there are more people, about twice as many New Yorkers say somehow, some way, I'm going to be better off financially a year from today. But the greatest number on that question, the plurality on that number says, I think I'm really just going to tread water.

Specifically, we looked at some of the buying plans. Are you going to buy a car? Are you going to do a home improvement? Are you just going to buy a computer, electronics over the next six months? And the plans to purchase each and every one of those items are down this quarter from where they were last quarter. We've sort of gone back to where we were about a year ago, all the numbers have fallen back. And they really kind of mirror the inflationary effects of food prices. If you look specifically at the impact that food prices are having on New Yorkers, we've seen for about a year that New Yorkers at the rate of 80% say that food prices are having a serious negative effect on their budget. That number skyrocketed to that point a little over a year ago, and now it holds steady. Add that into this hesitancy to buy and we have seen a drop now in consumer sentiment across the state of New York.

How does this snapshot compare with other difficult economic times like during the pandemic or after the Great Recession?

This is certainly far better than during the Great Recession. But the pandemic was interesting. So one thing that happened during the pandemic, the effect of gasoline almost evaporated, to make a poor metaphor, during the pandemic. So whereas now, about 60% of New Yorkers say that gasoline is seriously impacting them. I'll note that that's down a few points. But during the pandemic with so many people, of course, staying home, only about 20% of the market said the gasoline was having an effect.

I think as we look ahead to the quarter ahead, we'll have to wait and see. But there's obviously concern right now that gasoline prices will go up as we have turmoil in the Middle East. And that could join with food as having a negative effect on New Yorkers, New Yorkers’ budget. Who feels confident? The only two groups of New Yorkers whose index number represents that they're more optimistic than pessimistic are New York Democrats and New Yorkers earning over $100,000 a year. Other groups really are telling us that they're uncomfortable economically right now. Upstate New Yorkers making less than $50,000, New Yorkers above the age of 55, and Republicans, all of whom have index of consumer sentiment numbers that are well below the breakeven point of balanced optimism and pessimism.

The White House is telling a much different success story about the state of the economy and its efforts to fight back against inflation. Do we see a correlation between the attitude among consumers and their sentiment that you measure and the actual state of how the economy plays out over the coming quarter or how it has played out in the last couple of years?

We don't at this point. Certainly the White House as they trumpet Bidenomics, as they talk about the various statistics that show that the economy is strong that it is vibrant and rebounding, that doesn't resonate at this point with most New Yorkers. Some, but not all. So for example, when we see New Yorkers’ intent to buy major items down, that demonstrates that New Yorkers are concerned. They’re saying this is not a good time to make these purchases. When we say to New Yorkers, are you simply just better off financially today than you were a year ago? And far more New Yorkers, about 42%, say I'm worse off. Only about a quarter say I’m better off. The remainder say I'm just treading water. The sentiment of New Yorkers does not resonate with the statistics that the White House is putting out there.


A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.