Summary of Findings

The American public begins the new year with a highly negative view of national conditions and tempered expectations for 2008. Half of Americans say that as far as they are concerned, 2008 will be a better year than 2007, while 34% say it will be worse. In December 2006, and in several end-of-year surveys during the 1990s, there was greater optimism about the coming year.

Public views of the state of the nation are even less positive than people’s personal expectations for the coming year. Just 27% say they are satisfied with national conditions, while 66% are dissatisfied. Positive views of the state of the nation have been mired at about 30% for most of the past two years; in December 2006, 28% said they were satisfied with the way things were going in the country, while 65% were dissatisfied.

President Bush’s approval rating also remains at a low point at the start of his final year in office. Just 31% approve of the president’s job performance, while 60% disapprove. Bush’s approval rating has been below 40% since February 2006.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Dec. 19-30 among 1,430 adults, finds that the public is looking forward to the presidential election much more than several other major events on the 2008 calendar. Fully 70% say they are especially looking forward to the November election, which is comparable to the proportion in January 1988 that said they were highly anticipating the presidential contest (74%).

A smaller majority (54%) says they are looking forward to the presidential primaries. Still, this is slightly more than say they are looking forward to the Olympics (52%) or the Super Bowl (49%), and far more than are anticipating the World Series and the Academy Awards.

The World Series, in particular, is less highly anticipated than it was two decades ago, when 51% said they were especially looking forward to the baseball championship.

Far more Democrats than Republicans say they are looking forward to the 2008 election, especially the primary contests. Roughly three-quarters of Democrats (74%) say they are especially looking forward to the primaries, compared with only about half of Republicans (49%). This is consistent with previous Pew surveys showing higher levels of political enthusiasm and satisfaction with the presidential candidates among Democrats than among Republicans.

Looking Ahead

Women are personally more optimistic about the year ahead than are men. More than half of women (55%) say that 2008 will be a better year than 2007, while just 28% expect the coming year to be worse. Fewer than half of men (46%) are personally upbeat about 2008, while 40% expect it to be a worse year than 2007.

Young people consistently express more personal optimism than do older Americans, and this is reflected in their upbeat outlook for 2008. Two-thirds (66%) of those younger than 30 say this year will be better than last, compared with 50% of those ages 30 to 49 and slightly more than 40% for 50 and older.

Republicans are more positive than either Democrats or independents about the year ahead; 57% of Republicans say 2008 will be better than 2007, compared with 49% of Democrats and the same percentage of independents. Late last year, two-thirds of Republicans (67%) said 2007 would be better than 2006. Democrats and independents also are less optimistic about the coming year than they were in December 2006, though the declines are smaller than among Republicans (four points among Democrats, five points among independents).

Most Important Event of ’07

A plurality of Americans (23%) cite Iraq as the single most important news event of 2007, but significantly fewer named Iraq as the year’s top event than did so in 2006 (34%). Pew surveys have shown that public attentiveness to the war, which was extensive early in 2007, declined later in the year.

Aside from Iraq, no single event stood out in the public’s view as the most important in 2007. Overall, 4% volunteered natural disasters and the weather and 3% cited the home mortgage crisis, with smaller numbers naming other stories. In 2006, the midterm election was mentioned by 12% as the most important news event, by far the highest percentage for any other story except Iraq.

The public’s retrospective view of the year’s most important news event differs from news interest, which the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press tracks on a weekly basis. By that measure, the rising price of gasoline and the Virginia Tech University shootings were the top stories of 2007. See “Gas Prices, Disasters Top Public’s News Interests in 2007.”