Last month’s 2024 Gulf South Index by The Ehrhardt Group and Causeway Solutions has been our most read report to date! Thank you for all your support, and stick around for continued insights on consumer behavior, generational differences and more. If you missed this year’s report, click the link below to download now!

Earlier this month, we released our fifth edition of the Gulf South Index by The Ehrhardt Group and Causeway Solutions. After five years, we’ve been able to delve into not only how consumers are feeling, but how long they’ve felt that way. The world is very different than it was when we began our research in 2020 – but how have our feelings changed? How have they stayed the same? From the economy to media to artificial intelligence technology that seemed impossible just five years ago – consumer sentiment is always changing.

1. The Emotions of Economics

While we might spend a lot of time talking about the likelihood of a recession or inflation rates, our economic mindset is just as important – and the two don’t always align.

Is Perception Reality? We have spent five years of the Gulf South Index asking respondents to rate the economic situation in the U.S. today from one star (the worst) to five stars (the best). Through various actual financial situations since 2020, no more than 24% of Gulf South respondents have ever ranked the economy four or five stars. Nationally, that number stands at 26%.

But in reality… the economy seems to be in pretty good shape. Unemployment is low and the stock market is high, but our ratings can’t seem to get out of the trenches. As Poynter suggests, consistent issues such as inflation and interest rates may lead to this negative outlook, as they are numbers we rely on more frequently, but a constant negative feedback loop may also be to blame. We convince ourselves the economy is bad, everyone else convinces us the economy is bad, and so we believe the economy is always bad – even if the numbers say something different.

Breaking the cycle: Hopefully, good news is on the horizon for our emotional economic outlook. Even if it was small, the jump in giving the economy four or five stars from 2023 to 2024 was the highest increase in GSI history for the Gulf South. Similarly, those ranking the economy one or two stars is down from a record high in 2022.


2. Left Behind

Five years ago, AI was barely a thought for most consumers – and our interest probably did not surpass the occasional frustration with our iPhone’s Siri or reliance on Amazon’s Alexa, but “The AI Race” has been plaguing companies, and news cycles, for a few years now, as teams rush to come up with the biggest, best and most successful use of artificial intelligence in the modern world. But while the race is heating up for these competitors, consumers might be getting left behind as their interest seems to stall.

Detours: AI has proved itself controversial. While some big names continue speeding towards an AI future, others, such as Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group, are suing AI generators for copyright infringement. The online debate surrounding AI’s ethics, success and long-term impact is hard to miss. Some believe AI tech will completely change life as we know it for the better, while others believe it can only cause harm, depending on who you ask.

Furthermore, while AI technology might be a favorite of big-name companies, it doesn’t seem to have caught on yet at the local level. According to this year’s Gulf South Index, only 34% of the Gulf South has used ChatGPT, the most popular and widely-available public AI service. Nationally, only 37% have done so. Skepticism, public discourse and lack of understanding could all be factors in AI’s inability to successfully change “life as we know it” as fast as the founding companies may want.


3. Feeling Out the Future

The past five years have been characterized by uncertainty and unpredictable challenges, and that trend looks likely to continue.

Uncertainty in the Gulf South… is increasing. Compared to 24% of national respondents, 37% of the Gulf South is unsure if they can achieve the American Dream. In 2020, only 19% were unsure.

Negativity Dip: But it isn’t all bad news! In 2023, Gallup found that negative emotions fell among the general population for the first time since 2014.  Furthermore, Gallup’s poll asking people if they experience five different negative experiences a day has also lowered. Regardless of the world around us, people are still attempting to remain positive in the face of uncertainty.

And in the Gulf South… we have our own share of similarities to balance our differences. More than 70% of each generation believe family to be important, and more than 60% feel the same about their communities. No matter what else we deem to be valuable, we all agree on the importance of those closest to us.


So, we’ve changed a lot, and in other ways we’ve remained the same. Uncertainty is on the rise, from our finances to our technology. But it remains true that sticking with those we trust and making informed decisions is the best way we can continue to move forward.

Marc Ehrhardt
The Ehrhardt Group