c.2012 Tampa Bay Times@

In tandem with a sharp drop in consumer confidence nationally, Florida's confidence index tumbled this month to its lowest level in nearly two years, according to a University of Florida survey released Tuesday.

The statewide barometer fell seven points to 71, a level suggesting relatively weak faith in the economy, though still better than the fall of 2008 when the index bottomed out below 60.

The last time the state's consumer confidence level was this low, Washington, D.C., was similarly embroiled in a debt ceiling showdown.

Chris McCarty, survey director within UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, says that's not a coincidence.

"Confidence among Floridians was already declining prior to any indication of a shutdown and debt ceiling debate," McCarty said in a statement. "However, there is no doubt that confidence in September took a hit as we replayed the events of August 2011, the last time the U.S. was precariously close to a default. Much like the rest of the country, Floridians were not happy with the prospect of defaulting on our national debt and a prolonged shutdown of federal services."

All five components measured by the survey fell. The sharpest decrease, an 11-point drop, came when survey-takers were asked if now is a good time to buy a big-ticket item, like a car.

Demographically speaking, seniors were the most pessimistic group.

Respondents aged 60 and up registered a 12-point drop in their expectations of whether the national economy would improve over the next year and a stunning 20-point drop in whether it's a good time to buy an expensive item.

The phone survey was conducted in the first three weeks of October and is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year.

Separately, the Conference Board reported a sharp drop in the national consumer confidence index to 71.2, down from 80.2 a month earlier.

Like McCarty, Conference Board economist Lynn Franco blamed the federal government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis. "Given the temporary nature of the current resolution," she said, "confidence is likely to remain volatile for the next several months."

Consumers are also more pessimistic about the labor market, the index indicated. Only 15.3 percent of survey takers said they anticipated more jobs in the months ahead, down from 16.1 percent in September.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or