I’m dreading the next few weeks.
The barrage of despicable campaign commercials is only getting worse. I can’t even watch my lowly Steelers get drubbed in peace.
Meanwhile, political polls are being jammed down our throats. I won’t rant again about why they’re evil. News outlets publishing horse race polls are like restaurants leaving the tails on shrimp in a plated, saucy dish. They might have visual appeal, but they’re otherwise useless, messy, and stupid.
Personally, the deluge of political polls is particularly infuriating – because it’s hard to shield CivicScience from the stink. Yes, we’re in the business of asking people questions and analyzing the answers. “Oh, so you’re a pollster?” Sigh.
Only the word “survey” makes me cringe more.
Lately, I’ve noticed other survey companies marketing their version of our Economic Sentiment Index, aimed at predicting the University of Michigan’s revered metric, which – if you’ve been reading this email for more than a few months – you know is pretty easy to do. You can simply configure your sample, back-test it, and line it up with Michigan’s monthly number. We proved it almost 10 years ago (and we’re still the best leading indicator).
It’s much harder – and more valuable – to measure real consumer health (and predict resulting behavior). Survey companies have an Achilles’ heel when it comes to ground truth like that.
Why? Because they rely entirely on compensated respondents.
We make a point to identify paid survey panelists in our tracking data, which allows us to measure how the small percentage of people who regularly answer surveys for money are fundamentally different from the rest of us. And they’re different. A lot.
High on the list of skews among compensated survey guinea pigs are their economic views. Like this:
Across all the questions comprising our Economic Sentiment Index, gig survey takers are significantly more financially optimistic than the average bear. I guess if you’re not too busy to answer lengthy surveys for a couple bucks, perhaps your life is pretty chill.
On some level, these biases are manageable, so long as they’re consistent. The directional changes can still be insightful – if not empirical – with the right modeling.
Insurmountable, however, are the psychographic skews of these paid panelists, which meaningfully affect other factors, like their brand preferences, shopping behavior, media habits, or causes they care about. It permeates everything.
That’s the problem with survey companies.
Pollsters have a different slew of baggage.
Glad we’re neither.
(And if you really do want to know the ground truth of consumer confidence, start here.)
Here’s what we’re seeing:
On that note, consumer confidence took a disconcerting nosedive this week. Our Economic Sentiment Index fell sharply this week, driven primarily by a steep decline in consumers’ outlook for the job market. This may seem counterintuitive, given the strong jobs report last week, but remember that our ESI is a forward-looking instrument. People expect the job market to get appreciably worse over the next six months. No doubt, news of company layoffs and hiring freezes, combined with the fear-stoking by folks like Jamie Dimon and Ken Griffin, are piercing the public psyche. I can’t tell at this stage how much of this is real and how much we’re just talking ourselves into it. Notice that people’s confidence in their personal finances have remained relatively buoyant.
One-in-four Americans plan to apply for some form of loan or credit in the next six months. Either because they’re not following the news about interest rates or they have no choice, 1-in-4 U.S. adults say they’ll be opening a line of credit or loan before Spring 2023, with credit cards, auto loans, and personal loans topping the list. Credit card intent is down from this time last year (see: rates), while auto loan intent is up (see: supply chain). In related news, these debt intenders have a lot of anxiety about their credit scores. It’s particularly concerning among younger and minority applicants.
COVID is down, inflation is up, and it’s break-even for holiday travel this year. As you know, we’re in the “everything is constantly changing” business, but sometimes the most interesting changes are the ones that don’t happen. This time last year, the economy was booming but so was the Delta variant – still, a ton of Americans renewed holiday travel following the 2020 lockdown. This year, COVID is pretty much gone (from our consciousness anyway) but economic headwinds are gusting. The end result – nearly identical travel intent. Among the more notable underlying differences, this year is likely to see younger and less frequent holiday travelers – continuing the trend of “bucket list” trips we saw all summer.
Support for legalized weed is also consistent (and consistently overwhelming) over last year, but consumption continues to climb. You’ll never know how difficult it is to write about marijuana without making a bunch of puns until you try. Anyway, a whopping 70% of voting-age Americans believe states should legalize marijuana for recreational use – the same percentage we saw a year ago. A near-similar 67% support President Biden’s decision to pardon a bunch of people convicted of simple weed possession, though there are clear skews by party ID and preferred cable news network. Meanwhile, a full one-third of Americans comfortably admit to us that they consume cannabis, at least occasionally. There, I made it.
Gen Z is changing the way we eat. This study is packed with far too much goodness for me to explain in a few sentences. It covers everything from their feelings about organic and GMO food, to the role of price in their purchasing decisions, to their favorite places for pizza and fast food, and lots in between. You’re welcome for all the free shit.
More studies this week:
- Projected spending is on the rise in the toy category, like it always is this time of year;
- Half of Americans are sitting on unused gift cards, mostly because they forget they have them;
- Our quarterly trend adoption tracker came out and augmented reality is on the rise;
- People are divided on how often they wash their sheets and it says a lot about them.
The most popular questions this week:
- A double date as a first date: appropriate or inappropriate?
- How much does your mood affect the clothing you wear?
- If you could start over your life right now, would you do it?
- Do you think you like tacos more or less than the average person?
- Would you say you’ve ever felt grief after a significant sports loss?
- Do you think raising kids today is easier or more difficult compared to 20 years ago?
Answer Key: Weird; None, but what I’m wearing definitely affects my mood; Hell no; Way more; 1995 AFC Championship Game; Infinitely harder.
Hoping you’re well.
PS – If any of you will be in New York for AdWeek next week, give me a shout and I’ll let you buy me a drink ☺
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In case you’re wondering, this is an informal email I write to CivicScience clients, friends, and other VIPs every Saturday morning. If you’re getting this, you’re either one of those people or were referred to me by one of them. I always love your comments and feedback.
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