U.S. consumer confidence fell sharply - from 71.5 to 65.1 - in December as Americans worried that political bickering in Washington could slow the economy and raise unemployment.
Lynn Franco of the Conference Board says previous wrangling over the debt ceiling in August 2011 sparked a similar drop in expectations.
Economists watch consumer confidence for hints about the consumer spending that drives most U.S. economic activity.
Other reports Thursday were more optimistic. The number of Americans signing up for unemployment compensation last week fell to the lowest level in more than four years.
Thursday's report from the Labor Department says first-time jobless claims fell by 12,000 to a nationwide total of 350,000.
The Commerce Department says November's new home sales hit the fastest pace in more than two years.