HPU Poll: North Carolina Consumer Sentiment Remains Low

HIGH POINT, N.C., March 3, 2021 – According to the latest High Point University Poll, the Consumer Sentiment Index shows North Carolinians’ opinions about the economy and their personal finances remain low. The newest index, based on February 2021 HPU Poll data, is recorded at 71.4. That number is slightly lower than a November 2020 HPU Poll.

The HPU Poll’s measure of consumer sentiment is an index that comprises five separate questions asking respondents about different aspects of how they view the U.S. economy and their own personal finances.

“The most recent HPU Poll indicates that consumer sentiment in North Carolina continues to remain low,” said Brian McDonald, associate director of the HPU Poll and adjunct instructor. “North Carolinians are provided this opportunity to voice their opinion on how they feel about their own finances and the current economic climate, something we continue to track to gauge if opinions begin to change.”

Findings for the individual questions show why the overall index fluctuates year to year, but has remained low, reflecting pessimism among consumers.

February 2021 Index Results:

– 24% of North Carolina residents said they are better off financially than they were a year ago, compared to 28% of respondents in November 2020.

– 32% of North Carolinians believe they will be better off financially a year from now.

– 34% of respondents said they expect bad business conditions in the next 12 months. In November 2020, that number was 23%.

– 37% of respondents said that during the next five years or so, the country will have periods of widespread unemployment or depression.

– 32% of North Carolina residents said now is a bad time to make a major household purchase, compared to 34% in November 2020.

“Consumer sentiment remains low because COVID-19 is still here, and most are still waiting to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Daniel Hall, chair and associate professor of economics. “Some are worried that inflation might creep up before the recovery and dampen their purchasing power. Others still cannot find work or know someone who cannot.”

The HPU Poll also asked North Carolinians about food hardship and food security. In order to measure food hardship, HPU’s Survey Research Center administered a question fielded by the Gallup organization as part of its Gallup‐Healthways Well‐Being Index and reported by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) in its research. The question asked respondents if there have been times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy food that they or their family needed. About one-third (31%) said that there have been times, while 66% said that there have not been times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy the food that their family needed.

To measure relative food security, the HPU Poll asked an abbreviated set of questions from the U.S. Household Food Security Six-Item Short Form Survey Module developed by researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics. When asked if they ever ate less than they felt they should because there wasn’t enough money for food in the past 12 months, 29% of poll respondents said yes, while 67% said that no to this question.

The poll also asked respondents if in the last 12 months they were ever hungry but didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough money for food. Almost one-quarter (24%) of poll respondents said yes, while 73% said no, they were not hungry but didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough money for food.

“Before the pandemic, FRAC ranked North Carolina 17th in the nation for the worst food hardship with 16.4% of our population sometimes not having enough money to buy food,” said Dr. Joe Blosser, Robert G. Culp director of Service Learning and associate professor of religion and philosophy. “While this survey utilized a different methodology, the data from the HPU Poll suggests a sharp increase in the state’s food hardship number in the last year. This should be a real call to action.”

Current Finances – All Adults

We are interested in how people are getting along financially these days. Would you say that you (and your family living there) are better off or worse off financially than you were a year ago?

February 2021
Better Off – 24%
Worse Off – 29%
Same/Neither – 44%
Don’t know/Refused – 3%

(Telephone and online interviews with North Carolina residents, surveyed Feb. 12 – Feb. 26, n = 854 and credibility interval is +/- 3.7%)

November 2020
Better Off – 28%
Worse Off – 33%
Same/Neither – 36%
Don’t know/Refused – 3%

(All adult North Carolina resident online sample, surveyed Nov. 17 – 21, 2020, n = 1000 and credibility interval of +/- 3.2%)

Future Finances – All Adults

Now looking ahead, do you think that a year from now you (and your family living there) will be better off financially, or worse off, or just about the same as now.

February 2021
Better Off – 32%
Worse Off – 22%
About the same – 38%
Don’t know/Refused – 7%

(Telephone and online interviews with North Carolina residents, surveyed Feb. 12 – Feb. 26, n = 854 and credibility interval is +/- 3.7%)

November 2020
Better Off – 36%
Worse Off – 17%
About the same – 36%
Don’t know/Refused – 10%

(All adult North Carolina resident online sample, surveyed Nov. 17 – 21, 2020, n = 1000 and credibility interval of +/- 3.2%)

Business Conditions – All Adults

Now turning to business conditions in the country as a whole, do you think that during the next 12 months we’ll have good times financially, or bad times, or what?

February 2021
Good Times – 20%
Bad Times – 34%
Neither – 24%
Good times with qualifications – 11%
Bad times with qualifications – 5%
Don’t know/Refused – 7%

(Telephone and online interviews with North Carolina residents, surveyed Feb. 12 – Feb. 26, n = 854 and credibility interval is +/- 3.7%)

November 2020
Good Times – 19%
Bad Times – 23%
Neither – 28%
Good times with qualifications – 12%
Bad times with qualifications – 8%
Don’t know/Refused – 11%

(All adult North Carolina resident online sample, surveyed Nov. 17 – 21, 2020, n = 1000 and credibility interval of +/- 3.2%)

Country Future – All Adults

Looking ahead, which would you say is more likely, that in the country as a whole we’ll have continuous good times during the next five years or so, or that we have periods of widespread unemployment or depression, or what?

February 2021
Widespread unemployment or depression – 37%
Continuous good times – 18%
Neither/Mix of both – 39%
Don’t know/Refused – 7%

(Telephone and online interviews with North Carolina residents, surveyed Feb. 12 – Feb. 26, n = 854 and credibility interval is +/- 3.7%)

November 2020
Widespread unemployment or depression – 27%
Continuous good times – 17%
Neither/Mix of both – 48%
Don’t know/Refused – 8%

(All adult North Carolina resident online sample, surveyed Nov. 17 – 21, 2020, n = 1000 and credibility interval of +/- 3.2%)

Major Purchases – All Adults

About the big things people buy for their homes, such as furniture, a refrigerator, stove, television, and things like that. Generally speaking, do you think now is a good time or bad time for people to buy major household items?

February 2021
Good time – 29%
Bad time – 32%
Neither – 32%
Don’t know/Refused – 8%

(Telephone and online interviews with North Carolina residents, surveyed Feb. 12 – Feb. 26, n = 854 and credibility interval is +/- 3.7%)

November 2020
Good time – 25%
Bad time – 34%
Neither – 32%
Don’t know/Refused – 10%

(All adult North Carolina resident online sample, surveyed Nov. 17 – 21, 2020, n = 1000 and credibility interval of +/- 3.2%)

Food & Money – All Adults

Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?

Yes – 31%
No – 66%
Don’t know/Refused – 4%

(Telephone and online interviews with North Carolina residents, surveyed Feb. 12 – Feb. 26, n = 854 and credibility interval is +/- 3.7%)

Eat less & Money – All Adults

In the last 12 months, did you ever eat less than you felt you should because there wasn’t enough money for food?

Yes – 29%
No – 67%
Don’t know/Refused – 4%

(Telephone and online interviews with North Carolina residents, surveyed Feb. 12 – Feb. 26, n = 854 and credibility interval is +/- 3.7%)

Hunger & Money – All Adults

In the last 12 months, were you ever hungry but didn’t eat because there wasn’t enough money for food?

Yes – 24%
No – 73%
Don’t know/Refused – 3%

(Telephone and online interviews with North Carolina residents, surveyed Feb. 12 – Feb. 26, n = 854 and credibility interval is +/- 3.7%)

The most recent HPU Poll was fielded by live interviewers at the High Point University Survey Research Center calling on Feb. 12 through Feb. 26, 2021 and an online survey fielded at the same time. The responses from a sample of all North Carolina counties came from 854 adults interviewed online (549 respondents) as well as landline or cellular telephones (305 respondents). The Survey Research Center contracted with dynata, formerly Research Now SSI: https://www.dynata.com/ to acquire these samples, and fielded the online survey using the SRC’s Qualtrics platform. This is a combined sample of live phone interviews and online interviews. The online sampling is from a panel of respondents, so their participation does not adhere to usual assumptions associated with random selection. Therefore, it is not appropriate to assign a classical margin of sampling error for the results. In this case, the SRC provides a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points to account for a traditional 95% confidence interval for the estimates (plus or minus 3.4 percentage points) and a design effect of 1.2 (based on the weighting). The data is weighted toward population estimates for age, gender, and race/ethnicity based on U.S. Census numbers for North Carolina. Factors such as question wording and other methodological choices in conducting survey research can introduce additional error into the findings of opinion polls. Details from this survey are available at http://www.highpoint.edu/src/files/2021/03/79memoC.pdf

Further results and methodological details from the most recent survey and past studies can be found at the Survey Research Center website at http://www.highpoint.edu/src/. The materials online include past press releases as well as memos summarizing the findings (including approval ratings) for each poll since 2010.

The HPU Poll reports methodological details in accordance with the standards set out by AAPOR’s Transparency Initiative, and the HPU Survey Research Center is a Charter Member of the Initiative. For more information, see http://transparency.aapor.org/index.php/transparency.

You can follow the HPU Poll on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HPUSurveyCenter.

Dr. Martin Kifer, chair and associate professor of political science, serves as the director of the HPU Poll, and Brian McDonald is the associate director of the HPU Poll.

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