North Carolinians report still feeling inflation; consumer sentiment up

Published February 8, 2024

By High Point University Poll

Inflation is still on the minds of North Carolinians interviewed for the 100th High Point University Poll. Half (50%) of North Carolina residents responding to the survey say inflation concerns have affected a lot of their spending decisions this year. About one-third (35%) say inflation concerns have affected some of their spending decisions, and only 14% say inflation concerns haven’t affected them much at all.

North Carolinians were also asked to consider how the prices they are currently paying for products compared to last year. The majority say prices are much higher for meat (52%). Less than half of the poll respondents say they are paying a much higher price for fruits and vegetables (40%), eggs (40%), gas for their cars (39%), bread (35%), milk (34%), natural gas (33%), clothing (33%), electronics (31%), water (26%) and toys (22%).

Just about two in five (43%) North Carolina residents say the inflation over the past few months had been worse than they expected. Just one-third (32%) say inflation has been about as they expected, and only 21% say the inflation has been not as bad as expected.

“North Carolina households are continuing to adjust to the rapid inflation over the past couple of years. Compared to the results from the last HPU Poll in November 2023, more respondents say that inflation affected their major spending decisions ‘a lot’ (50 percent versus 44 percent),” says Dr. Peter Summers, an associate professor of economics at HPU. “At the same time, fewer households replied that actual inflation was worse than what they expected, (43 versus 46 percent), and the majority responded that it was either not as bad or about as they expected (53 versus 51 percent).”

Consumer Sentiment Up Slightly

According to this latest poll, the Consumer Sentiment Index shows North Carolinians might have a more optimistic opinion about the economy, recorded at 68.0. That number is up slightly from when it was last reported at 64.8 in the November 2023 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.

“Consumer sentiment plays a pivotal role, significantly influencing innovation and guiding the trajectory of progress,” says Dr. Nasir Assar, HPU’s MBA director and associate professor of economics. “Understanding and responding to consumer emotions creates a dynamic connection that helps businesses succeed.”

NC residents – Prices Currently Paying (January 2024)

Thinking about the prices you are currently paying for products on this list compared to last year, would you say prices are much higher, somewhat higher, about the same as last year, somewhat lower or much lower? [Items presented in a random order]

  Much higher price Somewhat higher price About the same Somewhat lower Much lower Unsure or don’t buy
Meat 52 32 10 3 1 2
Fruits and vegetables 40 41 15 3 * 1
Eggs 40 35 14 7 2 2
Gas for your car 39 28 17 11 2 2
Bread 35 42 19 3 * 2
Milk 34 38 20 4 1 4
Natural gas 33 30 12 4 1 20
Clothing 33 38 21 4 1 4
Electronics 31 33 24 3 2 8
Water 26 34 28 3 1 8
Toys 22 30 18 3 1 27

NC residents – Inflation and Spending Decisions (January 2024)

How much have concerns about inflation affected major spending decisions you have made this year?

A lot – 50%

Some – 35%

Not much at all – 14%

Unsure – 2%

NC residents – Inflation Expectations (January 2024)

Generally speaking, has the inflation we have seen over the past few months been worse than you expected, not as bad as you expected or about what you expected?

Worse than expected – 43%

Not as bad as expected – 21%

About as expected – 32%

Unsure – 4%

January 2024 Consumer Sentiment Index Results:

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?

Better off – 19%
Worse off – 47%
Same/Neither – 32%
Unsure – 2%

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.

Better off – 30%
Worse off – 23%
About the same – 38%
Unsure – 9%

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?

Good times – 16%
Bad times – 27%
Neither – 30%
Good times with qualifications – 12%
Bad times with qualifications – 7%
Unsure – 8%

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?

Widespread unemployment or depression – 23%
Continuous good times – 16%
Neither – 8%Mix of both – 45%
Unsure – 8%

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?

Good time – 20%
Bad time – 38%
Neither good time nor bad time – 34%
Unsure – 8%

HPU Poll 100 was fielded by the High Point University Survey Research Center on Jan. 16 through Jan. 26 as an online survey using a panel of respondents recruited and maintained by Dynata. Dynata sent invitations to its panel of N.C. respondents and the SRC collected 1,042 responses on its Qualtrics platform. The SRC did all data analysis. The online sample is from a panel of respondents, and their participation does not adhere to usual assumptions associated with random selection. Therefore, it is not appropriate to assign a classic margin of sampling error for the results. In this case, the SRC provides a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points to account for a traditional 95% confidence interval for the estimates (plus or minus 3.0 percentage points) and a design effect of 1.2 (based on the weighting). The data is weighted toward population estimates for age, gender, race, ethnicity and education 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 errors into the findings of opinion polls. Percentages may not add to 100 because of rounding.

Further results and methodological details from the most recent survey and past surveys can be found at the Survey Research Center website. 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.

You can follow the HPU Poll on Twitter.

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.