Poll: Public sours on what 2013 will bring

December 24, 2012

Public expectations about the year ahead are bleaker than they’ve been in more than a decade, with Republicans leading the way in adopting gloomier outlooks, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

A bare 53 percent majority of all Americans are “hopeful” about their lives in 2013; some 44 percent say they are instead more “fearful.” The assessment about what’s in store for the world is even more grim: a record low 40 percent report being hopeful about the next year, with 56 percent saying they are more fearful.

Those personally hopeful numbers are down sharply from four years ago when 63 percent said as much in the wake of President Obama’s historic first election. The trend is even more striking compared to expectations for 2007, before the national economic bubble burst. In December 2006, nearly three-quarters were more hopeful than fearful about the coming year.

Perceptions of a lingering recession, weak economic recovery and fears of falling off the “fiscal cliff” underpin these sagging expectations. Over three quarters think the economy is still in a recession, despite improved economic indicators such as falling unemployment.

The likelihood that the December 31 deadline for Congress and Obama to reach a new budget deal will fall through compounds negative perceptions for the coming year. Some 45 percent think it is likely that Obama and Republicans in Congress will not reach an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff. Personal fears about the new year rise to 58 percent among those who think this failure is likely to happen.

Nearly six in 10 are very concerned about the national economy if a budget agreement is not reached soon. Among those with high level concern, 53 percent are fearful about the future.

Not all the perceptions are slipping. Fully 53 percent say that based on their own experiences the economy has begun to recover, a sentiment that’s crept up steadily from 36 percent in November 2011 to a new high point. Still, even among those who see recovery happening, most see it as a weak one.

Republicans and Democrats report far different readings on the recovery as well as the hopes for their personal lives. Over seven in 10 Democrats say the economy is beginning to recover, but fewer than half as many Republicans - 35 percent - see the economy making a turnaround.

Rising fears are concentrated among Republicans, peaking at 72 percent and up a remarkable 52 percentage points from 2006. In 2008, after Obama’s victory, Republicans split 44 to 54 percent between hope and fear.

Democrats are far more positive, with 75 percent hopeful about their personal lives, exactly the same as 2008. Even during George W. Bush’s presidency, majorities of Democrats expressed a hopeful outlook. Independents splits about evenly between hope and fear.

In separate questions about the coming year, the public divides narrowly between optimism and pessimism about the state of the economy, the way things are going in the country overall and chances for bipartisan agreement in Washington.

A 55 percent majority are optimistic about the policies Obama will pursue in the coming year, a bit of a comedown from the 68 percent who were optimistic when he was first elected in 2008. The current rating is propped up by 85 percent optimism among Democrats, a point shy of their rating four years ago.

Republican fears extend to these areas too - eight in 10 or more report pessimism on the economy, the country and President Obama’s agenda. Two thirds are pessimistic about cooperation between Obama and Republicans in Congress.

The public does remain bullish on one subject; two thirds are optimistic about their own family’s financial situation. That optimism crosses partisan bounds and has been stable for the last four years.

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