The Year Ahead: Hope Up, Worldview Down

by Peyton M. Craighill, ABC News Analyst

Personal hopes for the new year are looking up, courtesy of sharply greater cheer among Democrats celebrating their midterm victory.

The public's broader worldview has inched south, though, weakened by dour views on Iraq and the Bush administration alike.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans are more hopeful than fearful about what 2007 has in store for them personally, the most since 2003.

Significantly fewer, 55 percent, are optimistic about the world's prospects overall in the year to come.

It's the first time in polls since 2001 that these measures have moved in different directions: Compared to last year, this ABC News/Washington Post poll finds a six-point gain in the number of Americans who express personal optimism for the year ahead, but a slight four-point drop in the number who are optimistic about the world's fortunes.

PARTISAN FACTORS -- The advance in personal optimism comes from Democrats, who last month regained the control of Congress they lost a dozen years ago. Seventy-one percent of Democrats now call themselves more hopeful than fearful about the year ahead, up a dramatic 21 points from last year.

More Republicans, 79 percent, remain optimistic; they retain the presidency, after all, and also tend to be better off financially than Democrats, a stronger factor than partisanship in personal optimism. Republicans have been more optimistic than Democrats steadily since 2003. This year, compared to last, the margin has narrowed very considerably, though.

Optimism about the world more broadly in the coming year likewise has gained sharply among Democrats, but eroded among independents and Republicans. Today 65 percent of Republicans are hopeful about the world's prospects -- down 13 points from last year, albeit still the brightest outlook. Hopefulness among independents (this year's glummest political group) is down by eight points. Among Democrats it's up by 14.

ISSUES -- Optimism has advanced in the last year in specific areas including personal finances, fighting terrorism and the economy, all buoyed by increased optimism among Democrats and independents. However, optimism on the situation in Iraq and on George W. Bush's policies in general has declined, with Republican optimism on Iraq, in particular, plummeting.

Overall four in 10 Americans are optimistic about the situation in Iraq, down 14 points from last year. That includes a huge 31-point drop among Republicans, from 83 percent last year to 52 percent today. Optimism among independents on Iraq is down by 11 points, to 39 percent. It's lowest, but stable, among Democrats, at 29 percent.

Optimism about the overall policies Bush will pursue over the next year also has fallen below a majority, from 53 percent last year to 47 percent today. Eight in 10 Republicans are optimistic about Bush's plans over the next 12 months -- but that falls to 47 percent of independent and 24 percent of Democrats.

At 47 percent, the level of optimism about Bush's policies compares poorly to the level of optimism -- 67 percent -- about the policies the Democrats in Congress will pursue. The reasons are three: Democrats are more optimistic about Congress than are Republicans about the president; most independents go with the Democrats; and, most surprisingly, a good number of Republicans are optimistic about the Democrats' policies as well.

Specifically, a whopping 91 percent of Democrats are optimistic about their party's plans in Congress for the year. Far more independents are optimistic about the policies the Democrats will pursue (62 percent) than about Bush's policies (47 percent). And 42 percent of Republicans express optimism about the Democrats' policies. By contrast, as noted, just 24 percent of Democrats express optimism about Bush's plans.

Among other issues, 82 percent of Americans are optimistic about their family's financial situation (up nine points from a year ago), 71 percent are confident in the country's ability to defend itself against terrorist attacks (up six points), 64 percent are optimistic about the nation's economy (up nine points) and 61 percent are optimistic about the way things are going in the country overall. The latter is 13 points better than it was in May.

IRAQ -- In addition to partisanship and income, views on the situation in Iraq are closely linked to expectations for the world overall in the coming year: People who think the United States is losing the war are 28 points less likely to have a hopeful view of the world's prospects. Views on the war are a significant predictor of broader optimism beyond political partisanship.

INCOME AND SEX -- Money is an important factor in personal optimism for the coming year: The richest Americans are much more optimistic than are people at the lower end of the income scale.

Eighty-six percent of people earning more than $100,000 a year are personally hopeful; that drops to 63 percent of those with family incomes under $35,000. There's a similar income gap in optimism about family finances and the economy, but not in views of the world overall, the direction of the country, the Iraq war or anti-terrorism efforts.

Finally, men are more hopeful than women about their own and the world's prospects for the next year. Nearly eight in 10 men are personally optimistic, as are 68 percent of women; six in 10 men are hopeful for the world, compared with half of women. Part of that is because women tend to have lower incomes and are more apt to be Democrats, but sex predicts optimism even when these are held constant.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 7-11, 2006, among a random national sample of 1,005 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

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