Americans to loosen holiday purse strings in 2012: poll

Americans are likely to spend between three and four percent more on their holiday shopping this year than last, in an apparent sign of increased consumer confidence, according to a survey published Wednesday.

The poll, conducted jointly by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), found 12 percent of consumers said they would spend more on holiday purchases in 2012 than 2011.

That compares to just eight percent of respondents who said the same thing when polled this time last year.

A statement accompanying the annual survey said that this year's planned increase in spending by some consumers "may well reflect perceived improvement in their financial situation."

Meanwhile, the percentage of people who said they would spend less on gifts this year than last was 38 percent -- three percent less than the number of people who gave that response in last year's poll.

"Our survey results suggest that holiday spending this year will likely rise by between three and four percent compared to last year," said Bill Hampel, chief economist for CUNA.

"This represents the fourth year of gradual improvement in holiday spending plans since a sharp decline in such plans in 2008."

The November 9-13 telephone survey of about a thousand subjects found that many Americans are willing to part with more of their money this holiday season despite sizable financial constraints, including high mortgage payments, student loans and credit card payments.

People with lower incomes were more likely than well-off Americans to say that their financial circumstances had worsened this year compared to last, and were correspondingly less likely to report plans to spend as freely.

But the poll also made what it called the "anomalous" finding that Democrats -- who are less financially well-off than Republicans on average -- were more likely to increase their holiday spending this year.

The pollsters surmised that this may be the case in part because of the election victory earlier this month that saw Barack Obama returned to the White House for a second four-year term, which might have buoyed Democrats' spirits and loosened their purse strings.

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