2016 was a bad year for the world — but so were the last seven

January 03, 2017, 10:40 PM GMT+0

New data from YouGov shows that 71% of Americans think 2016 was a bad year, while only 29% describe it as good

2016 wasn’t such a great year for the world, according to most Americans. But it could have been worse. In fact, Economist/YouGov Polls show that this year and last were thought of a little bit more fondly than 2009, and opinion was not much different than it was about the rest of the years in between.

The world has had a bad run of years, and Americans of all demographic and political groups agree, including majorities of both Trump voters and Clinton voters. One in four describe the past year as “very bad.” African-Americans and Hispanics are among the most positive when grading the last year, though majorities of them still say it wasn’t a good one.

Last year, there were political differences in how people answered this question. At the end of 2015, nearly three times as many Republicans as Democrats described 2015 as a “very bad” year. More than three times as many Democrats as Republicans said it was a “good” year.

Looking back, Americans see things as especially bad elsewhere in the world, although that has been the case for a while. Last year, by 71% to 6%, Americans said things had gotten worse — not better — in the Middle East. This year looks better by comparison, though 55% think it has continued to get worse there. There has been a turnabout when it comes to Wall Street. Last year, twice as many said things on Wall Street had gotten worse, and not better (34% said things had gotten worse on Wall Street, and only 16% said they had improved). This year, slightly more (28%) think things have improved there than think they have gotten worse (23%).

2016 was a better year for people and their own families, though you couldn’t say it was wonderful. Just over half the public said it was a good year for them — fewer than average over the past four years. Still, evaluations are better than they were at the beginning of Barack Obama’s first term in office and again in 2011. In each of those two years, less than half the public said they and their families had had a good year.

Democrats are much more positive than Republicans about the year they personally had. 63% of Democrats say they and their families had a good year in 2016. Only 44% of Republicans agree. Income also matters greatly. Although half of those with family incomes under $50,000 a year say they and their family had a good year, that’s true for 68% of those with family incomes above $100,000 a year. Those patterns have been consistent from year to year, with Democrats more positive than Republicans, and those with higher incomes more positive about their family’s past year than those with less money.

What about 2017? Expectations for next year are greatly influenced by politics. At the start of 2016, Democrats were more optimistic than Republicans. In fact, nearly half were optimistic about what would happen in the world. Half of Republicans were pessimistic. Looking ahead to the New Year — and what will be a new administration in Washington — the partisan direction for expectations has reversed: Nearly three out of four Republicans are optimistic, while nearly six in ten Democrats are pessimistic.

Republicans have also become more positive about their family’s future in the coming year. Nearly twice as many Republicans (65%) as Democrats (34%) are optimistic about their family’s future in 2017.

See the rest of this week's YouGov/Economist Poll

YouGov/Economist Poll archives