WASHINGTON - Large number of Americans see 2013 as anything but a banner year and aren't reluctant to wave goodbye on New Year's Eve, a new AP-Times Square poll says, reflecting anxiety stretching from the corridors of power in Washington to corporate boardrooms, statehouses, and city and town halls.
Although the poll shows that people generally are looking forward to the new year with optimism and no blatant sense of foreboding, it also unmasks pent-up worries about international crises and instability, and concerns at home about the standard of living, health care and schools.
What the public thought of 2013:
GOOD YEAR OR GOOD RIDDANCE?
On the whole, Americans rate their own experience in 2013 more positively than negatively. But when asked to assess the year for the United States or the world at large, things turn sour.
—All told, 32 per cent say 2013 was a better year for them than 2012, while 20 per cent say it was worse and 46 per cent say the two years were really about the same. Young people were more apt to see improvement: 40 per cent of people under age 30 called 2013 a better year than 2012, compared with 25 per cent of people age 65 or older.
—The public splits evenly on how the year turned out for the country, 25 per cent saying it was better than 2012, 25 per cent saying it was worse. As with most questions about the state of affairs in the U.S. these days, there's a sharp partisan divide. Democrats are more apt to say the U.S. turned out better in 2013 than 2012 (37 per cent) than are Republicans (17 per cent).
—Thinking about the world at large, 30 per cent say 2013 was worse than 2012, while just 20 per cent say it was better.
But the outlook for the new year is positive: 49 per cent think their own fortunes will improve in 2014, 14 per cent are anticipating the new year to be a downgrade from the old. Thirty-four per cent say they don't expect much to change.
WHERE'S THE PARTY?
Most Americans — 54 per cent — say they'll be ringing in the new year at home, while 1 in 5 are heading to a friend's or family member's house. Only 8 per cent say they'll go to a bar, restaurant or other organized event.
—Younger Americans are least apt to spend the holiday at home: 39 per cent of those under age 30 will celebrate at home, 33 per cent at someone else's home, 13 per cent at a bar or other venue.
—Regardless of their own time zone, nearly 6 in 10 say they'll watch at least some of the celebration from New York City's Times Square.
Wherever they're spending the holiday, most Americans prefer the company of family. Asked with whom they want to be when the clock strikes midnight, 83 per cent name a family member.
—On a holiday often sealed with a kiss, nearly 4 in 10 say they most want to be next to their spouse, and 13 per cent cite a significant other or romantic interest as a preferred companion. Parents like to be with their children, more than the children like to be with their parents.
—Less conventional choices: 2 per cent cite their pets, 3 per cent God, Jesus or their religious congregation, and less than 1 per cent said they wanted to ring it in with their co-workers.
—Of course, some opt out altogether: 18 per cent say they're not planning to celebrate on New Year's Eve, and 9 per cent say there's no one with whom they'd like to party, preferring instead their pillow, TiVo or their own thoughts.
WHAT MATTERED IN NEWS
Asked to name the most important news story of the year, 26 per cent of Americans cited the implementation of the health care law. That story also came out on top in an Associated Press survey of news directors and editors, in which 45 of 144 journalists surveyed called the health care roll out their top story.
In the AP-Times Square poll, the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela occurred as the poll was underway. It rose quickly, with 8 per cent naming it as the most important news of the year, matching the share citing the federal government's budget difficulties or shutdown.
A separate question asked respondents to rate the importance of several news stories for them personally. The budget fight, which led to a partial shutdown of the federal government in October, was rated extremely or very important by 60 per cent of Americans, and prompted rare bipartisan agreement. About two-thirds in each major party — 65 per cent of Republicans and 63 per cent of Democrats — rated it highly important.
A majority said the Boston Marathon bombings were extremely or very important, and 47 per cent considered the national debate over gun laws that important.
POP CULTURE: MOSTLY FORGETTABLE MOMENTS
Miley Cyrus's MTV Video Music Awards performance. The launch of "Lean In." Apologies from Paula Deen and Lance Armstrong. Walter White's exit and the entrance of the Netflix series "House of Cards." What do they all have in common? More Americans say these pop culture moments were more forgettable than memorable.
Just one pop culture moment was deemed more memorable than forgettable: The birth of Prince George to Britain's Prince William and his wife, Kate.
—Among men, 64 per cent called the debate on work-life balance sparked by the book "Lean In" and other writings forgettable. About half of women agreed.
—About 1 in 5 younger Americans said the launch of original programming through streaming services like Netflix or Hulu was a memorable moment, about doubling the share among those age 50 and up.
—Residents of the West were more likely than others to consider memorable the San Francisco "Batkid" (31 per cent) or the final season of the series "Breaking Bad" (19 per cent).
The AP-Times Square New Year's Eve Poll was conducted by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications from Dec. 5-9 and involved online interviews with 1,367 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all respondents. The poll is a co-operative effort between AP and the organizers of the Times Square New Year's Eve Celebration, the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment. The Alliance is a non-profit group that seeks to promote Times Square, and Countdown Entertainment represents the owners of One Times Square and the New Year's Eve Ball Drop.
The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, a probability-based Internet panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents to the survey were first selected randomly, using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.
Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta