A majority of U.S. adults say 2021 was one of the worst years in American history

Jamie BallardData Journalist
December 23, 2021, 10:38 PM UTC

With 2021 all but over, YouGov asked Americans about what they thought of the year and how it will be remembered in history, along with questions about what they predict for the next year and the next decade.   

Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe it was a bad (35%) or terrible (30%) year for the country. Republicans are especially likely to say this, with 35% saying 2021 was bad and nearly half (46%) saying it was a terrible year for America. Two-thirds of Independents also say it was a bad or terrible year for America, and 50% of Democrats agree.

But Americans’ personal lives are a different story. While 31% of adults say it was a bad or terrible year for them personally, 41% say the year was OK. One in five (19%) say it was a good year, and there are even a few (5%) who say 2021 was great for them. 

Given that two-thirds of Americans had a negative opinion about 2021, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a majority (58%) believed it to be one of the worst years in American history. Republicans (75%) are especially likely to say 2021 was one of the worst years in American history, but a majority of Independents (60%) agree. Fewer than half of Democrats (43%)  share this opinion. 

Some Americans see 2021 as a bad year in a decade that was full of them. Three in 10 Americans say that the last 10-year period was one of the worst in American history, though a higher percentage (45%) say that it was about average. One in 10 say it was one of the best decades in U.S. history.

Republicans (18%) are more likely than Independents (7%) and Democrats (6%) to say the last 10 years were among the best 10-year periods in U.S. history, though nearly half of Democrats and Republicans (and 51% of Independents) say it was about average. 

When asked to rate how things are currently going in the U.S. on a scale of 1 to 10, 17% of Americans give it a 1, meaning they think things are very bad. Half (50%) give a rating between 2 and 5, and 28% give a rating between 6 and 9. Just 5% say the U.S. is at a 10 out of 10. 

Republicans (33%) are more likely than Independents (20%) and eight times as likely as Democrats (4%) to rate the country’s current situation as a 1 out of 10. Over half of Democrats (54%) give the country a rating of 6 or higher.

Were things any better 10 years ago? Americans definitely think so. Three out of five (61%) rate things at a 6 or higher a decade ago. Only 4% gave the country a 1 out of 10.

Democrats (70%) are more likely than Independents (61%) and Republicans (57%) to rate the country 10 years ago as 6 or higher.

Americans tend to think the country will be better in 10 years than it is now — but maybe not much better. Three in five (60%) think it’ll rate no higher than a 5 out of 10, with 12% of this group predicting things will be very bad (as in, 1 out of 10) in the early 2030s. 

Americans under 30 are a little more optimistic than their older counterparts about how things will be going in a decade. About half (47%) of Americans under 30 rate the U.S. of the future at 6 or higher. Among 30-to 64-year-olds, 37% say the same. About two in five Americans over 65 (41%) agree. 

While the 2030s seem a long way off, 2022 is just around the corner. Americans aren’t especially optimistic about it. Close to half (47%) think 2022 will also be a bad (24%) or terrible (23%) year for the country. One in five (21%) think it will be OK, and 16% anticipate it will be a great or good year for the U.S. 

Democrats (28%) are more than twice as likely as Independents (12%) and about three times as likely as Republicans (9%) to predict a good or great 2022 for America. Two-thirds (66%) of Republicans think 2022 will be a bad (30%) or terrible (36%) year. 

When it comes to their personal well-being, one-third (33%) of Americans think 2022 will be an OK year for them. One in five (22%) think they’ll have a good year, and 11% predict it will be a great year. But 14% are anticipating 2022 will be a bad year for them, and a few (8%) think it will be downright terrible.

See the toplines and crosstabs from this U.S. News Poll

Related: Americans who plan to make New Year’s resolutions are more optimistic about better things in 2022

Methodology: The U.S. News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between December 17 - 20, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. 

Image: Getty