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Economic Optimism Dips Despite Lower Pump Prices

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Gas prices have been declining and they are expected to continue the downward slide. However, the majority of fuel consumers in the United States are not optimistic about the overall state of the economy.

The latest national consumer survey released by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, found that only 44 percent of U.S. consumers are "very optimistic" or "somewhat optimistic" about the economy, down three points from last month. 

Economic optimism is also down compared to this time last year, when nearly half reported feeling optimistic about the state of the economy. Consumers in the Northeast are least optimistic (37 percent) and consumers aged 18-34 are most optimistic (51 percent).

According to NACS, U.S. fuel consumers report a median gas price of $2.10 per gallon, a 16-cent drop from July, and a total decline of 28 cents since June's summer high of $2.38. 

And as gas prices continue to drop, more drivers are noticing the trend. Nearly two in five fuel consumers said gas prices have declined in their area over the past 30 days, vs. 31 percent who said so in July when gas prices began to fall nationally. 

In addition, a majority of U.S. consumers expect low gas prices to continue. When asked whether they think gas prices 30 days from now will be higher or lower, nearly three in five (59 percent) say they expect prices next month to be the same or lower. 

As has been the case throughout this year, gas prices remain significantly lower than they have been in recent years. This month's median gas price of $2.10 is 54 cents lower than August 2015's median gas price of $2.64 and $1.40 per gallon lower than August 2014's median price of $3.50, the association said.

According to NACS, the reason may be that as gas prices drop, economic optimism becomes less dependent on the price at the pump. Only one in five of U.S fuel consumers said gas prices have a "great impact" on their feelings on the economy. 

This ties July for the lowest number since NACS began its monthly consumer surveys in January 2013.

Consumers say their vehicle's average fuel efficiency is 24.5 miles per gallon and average miles per dollar — a calculation that examines gas prices related to vehicle fuel efficiency — rose to 11.7 miles per dollar, the highest level since April.

"Consumer optimism has decoupled from gas price changes for only the second time in three years — and in both cases the news was dominated by politics. It's likely the recent political conventions pushed down optimism and the rancor of the campaigns is taking its toll on consumer optimism," said Jeff Lenard, NACS vice president of strategic industry initiatives. 

NACS represents the convenience store industry that sells 80 percent of the gas in the United States. The association conducts monthly consumer surveys to gauge how gas prices affect broader economic trends. The survey was conducted online by Penn Schoen Berland. From Aug. 2-5, it surveyed 1,149 U.S. adults who purchase fuel for a vehicle such as a car, truck or van at least once per month.

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