2020 was bad, but Americans are not certain 2021 will be better for the world

January 08, 2021, 7:30 PM UTC

Americans were decidedly negative about 2020, with most calling it a very bad year for the world, and even a bad year for their own families. The first Economist/YouGov Poll of 2021 finds that expectations for what will come next are not that much better: just about as many are pessimistic (35%) about the year ahead for the world as are optimistic (37%).   

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Democrats are more optimistic (50%) than pessimistic (24%) about 2021, while Republicans are more negative about it (44%). Republicans are three times (21%) as likely as Democrats (6%) to be “very” pessimistic about what comes next for the world. 

Americans tend to feel better about the 2021 future for their families. By 49% to 20%, adults feel more optimistic than pessimistic about what the next year holds for their family. On this topic, Republicans (45%) and Democrats (50%) are similarly likely to be optimistic. 

These are not very different from the answers Americans gave in previous years.  Americans typically are a bit more optimistic than pessimistic about the world’s future, and even more optimistic about their family’s year ahead. But there is also a partisan difference, depending on which party controls the White House. This year, Democrats are more optimistic than Republicans; four years ago, Republicans were more optimistic than Democrats, and that remained true throughout the Trump presidency. 

Americans are pessimistic about the future of politics 

The acrimonious election appears to have affected Americans’ views of the future of politics and the mirage of unity. By nearly six to one, the public sees the November election as having divided America (63%) more than uniting it (11%). That’s a feeling shared by the majority of those who voted for President-elect Joe Biden (59%) and those who supported President Trump (83%).  

But even more striking is the overall perception that Americans of different political views won’t be able to come together and work out their differences. Most say Americans won’t be able to do this (52%), with Republicans particularly pessimistic (61%). 

Black Americans are the only group who are optimistic about the country coming back together. By 45% to 29%, Black Americans are optimistic Americans of different political views can work out their differences. 

The negative politics of the election season may not end soon, though. A third of the public (and half of Republicans) expect that politics will become more negative in 2021. And divisions are expected to continue: asked about the next four years of a Biden presidency, 78% of Democrats are optimistic, while 75% of Republicans are pessimistic. 

In the last few years, during the Trump presidency, Republicans have been more positive than Democrats about the state of the economy. The election of Joe Biden has changed this. In this poll, 41% of Republicans say the economy is getting worse, about the same percentage as the 44% of Democrats who think this. Republicans have become more negative, but Democrats remain pessimistic and do not have high expectations for the economy, despite their party’s election victory.  

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll  

Related: Are young people making America better or worse?

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between January 3 - 5, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.3% for the overall sample.     

Image: Getty