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Americans Unsure if Best Times for U.S. Are Past or to Come

Americans Unsure if Best Times for U.S. Are Past or to Come

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are split when asked if the country's best years are ahead of us or behind us, with views on the future quite differentiated across party lines. Republicans are much more pessimistic about the future of the country than are Democrats.


These sentiments, measured in a Dec. 14-17 USA Today/Gallup poll, come at the end of a tumultuous political and economic year -- one which included a contentious presidential election, continuing sparring over the nation's economic policies, and the prospect of dramatic tax increases and government spending cuts as elected leaders argued over avoiding the "fiscal cliff" at year's end. The finding that Democrats are much more positive than Republicans about the future of the U.S. most likely reflects the fact that Democrats control the White House; Democrats are also currently much more positive about the status of the U.S. economy.

The same poll included several questions asking Americans to predict what the year 2013 will bring on economic, governmental, social, and international fronts.

Three of these questions focused on the economy, with results showing mixed predictions about the nation's economic state in 2013. Americans believe by almost a 2-1 margin that 2013 will be a year of economic difficulty rather than a year of prosperity. At the same time, they tilt toward the belief that 2013 will be a year of full or increasing employment rather than a year of rising unemployment. Americans also believe that 2013 will be a year in which prices will rise at a reasonable rate rather than at a high rate.


The 65% of Americans who predict 2013 will be a year of economic difficulty is one of the more negative responses to this question since Gallup first asked it in 1965. There has been, however, a great deal of fluctuation over that time period, from a high of 65% who said 1965 would be a year of prosperity, to a low of 7% who predicted 1974 would be a year of prosperity. A majority of Americans were positive about the economy in 1998 and 1999, while swinging more to the "economic difficulty" side of the ledger when asked about 2005.

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The slight majority who predict 2013 will be a year of full or increasing employment is not as positive as measured during the dot-com boom in 1998 and 1999, but significantly more positive than readings on this measure throughout the 1970s and in 1980. Americans tended to be more positive about employment in the 1960s, with an all-time high of 67% who said 1966 would be a year of full or increasing employment. Americans were most negative about 1975: 6% predicted that year would be one of full or increasing employment.


Gallup has asked about prices in the coming year only three times, in 2012, 1999, and 1998. In all three years, a majority of Americans said prices would rise at a reasonable rate, but last year's 57% is below the other two measures.


Americans Expect Higher Taxes, Continued Budget Deficit

Americans have strong opinions about two economic issues relating to government policies, with overwhelming majorities believing taxes will rise rather than fall in 2013 and the federal government will continue to have a budget deficit.

The perception that taxes will rise is not new; a substantial majority has predicted this state of affairs in each of the nine years Gallup asked this question. In fact, last year's 82% who predict rising taxes is significantly lower than the 91% and 94% who said taxes would rise in 1967 and 1968, respectively. Even in a time of predicted prosperity, 1998, 62% said taxes would rise.


Eighty-five percent of Americans say there will be a federal government budget deficit in 2013. It would be difficult to find an expert who predicts the budget will be balanced in 2013, making it perhaps surprising that 13% of Americans hold out the belief that the budget will be generally balanced this year. Half of Americans predicted the federal budget would be balanced in 1999 -- a year in which the federal budget actually was in the black.

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Americans Expect Global Discord, Waning U.S. Power

Americans are pessimistic about the state of the world in 2013, with a majority saying this year will be a troubled year with much international discord rather than an internationally peaceful year.

Gallup asked about international peace 12 times since 1960, and in all but that initial year, a majority of Americans predicted a troubled year with much international discord. The exception came in a December 1959 poll when 54% said 1960 would be a peaceful year, more or less free of international disputes. Americans were most worried about international trouble when asked about 1966: 82% said that year would be one of international trouble.


A majority also believe American power will decline rather than increase in 2013, something that has happened only once in the 15 years before when Gallup asked this question. Americans were most positive about American power increasing in 1963, when 84% expected such.

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About two-thirds of Americans believe 2013 will be a year of rising crime rates, a more negative prediction than in either 1999 or 1998. Americans' views about crime this year were possibly affected by the tragic school shooting on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn., the day on which the current poll began.


Bottom Line

Americans appear to expect 2013 to be a year of economic difficulty, albeit, it one in which employment may rise and inflation may stay in check. Americans overwhelmingly believe taxes will increase and there will continue to be a federal budget deficit in 2013; the country will lose power internationally, even as the world faces troubled times; and the nation will face a year of rising crime rates. Overall, the American public is split, largely along political lines, on the question of whether the country's best years are ahead of us -- or behind us.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 14-17, 2012, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,025 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cellphone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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