The CNBC All-America Economic Survey paints a contradictory portrait of consumers and of their finances, and willingness to spend ahead of the critical Christmas shopping season.
On the other hand, the survey of 800 people nationwide (with a margin of error of 3.5 percent) predicts a sharp, 9.4 percent drop in holiday spending this year compared with actual outlays a year ago as measured by the National Retail Federation. Americans plan to spend just $681 this holiday season, about on par with 2009, when the nation was clawing its way out of a deep financial crisis.
Behind this drop is a sharp falloff in spending by the wealthy. Those with incomes above $100,000 plan to lay out $300 less than they did last year, undoing two years of strong gains. But more broadly, overall sentiment about the economy remains muted and incomes severely challenged. There's even evidence that the imbroglios in Washington had a depressing effect on holiday spending.
Just 15 percent of the public rate the economy as excellent or good, a substantial gain from 4 percent during the recession that began in 2008 but still well below the 26 percent who thought the economy was in good shape in 2007.
Meanwhile, 83 percent rate the economy fair or poor. A quarter of those who will spend less this year say it's because their income is lower; 22 percent report that it's because the economy is in bad shape.
(Read more: US consumers tapped out as holidays approach)
But 13 percent say it's because of concerns about recent battles in Washington over the shutdown and the debt ceiling. A full 26 percent say that their spending plans for the year have been reduced in just the past month, a possible sign of Washington's impact on spending.
(The survey's record: In four of the past six years, the All-America forecast has been within $13 of the actual holiday spending number calculated from government data by the National Retail Federation. But it had big misses of about $100 in 2009 and 2010, the spending seasons following the recession.)