What Americans want in 2013
December 28th, 2012
06:11 PM ET

What Americans want in 2013

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.

As Americans make their New Year’s resolutions, gazing into their crystal balls in anticipation of 2013, they are pessimistic about the economy, doubtful about Washington avoiding the fiscal cliff and worried about rising inequality and economic unfairness. Preoccupied with issues at home, they want to avoid getting dragged deeper into conflicts in the Middle East, but nonetheless are willing to take military action against Iran to halt Tehran’s nuclear weapons program.

Downbeat domestic attitudes coupled with reticence about international engagement poses challenges for a world that still may need a strong United States.

After a rise in optimism about the economy in the run up to the U.S. presidential election in November 2012, Americans’ economic outlook has turned more negative on the eve of the New Year. A quarter of the population says the economy will be worse off 12 months from now, up from just 8 percent in September – the highest level of U.S. pessimism since June 2011. Just 37 percent expect the economy to be better off in 2013, down from 43 percent in September.

Given the U.S. economy’s driving role in the global economy, such American pessimism does not bode well for Europe, now mired in recession, nor for China, just poised for a recovery.

Some Americans’ pessimism about 2013 may be driven by the fact that a plurality (49 percent) think that the United States will be unable to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff on January 1, 2013 because the Congress and the White House will fail to reach agreement on a debt reduction strategy. And they are no more optimistic about the long-term prospects of getting the country’s finances in order. Just 44 percent say the country will have made significant progress on the debt five years from now.

Another source of pessimism stems from rising concern about inequality and class conflict. Four-in-ten Americans now strongly believe that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, up from 28 percent in 2002. More than half think that the U.S. economic system favors the wealthy. And just over two-thirds think that there are conflicts between the rich and the poor, an increase of 21 percentage points since 2009.

In 2013, there may be legislation to narrow the rich-poor gap. Certainly, more than two-thirds of the public backs raising taxes on the top 2 percent of the income earners in the United States, a central issue in the fiscal cliff debate.

More from CNN: What happens if U.S. goes over fiscal cliff?

But there is no sense that the American people are on the verge of class conflict in 2013. Polls show they just want a better chance of achieving success themselves – they do not want redistributive government policies, they want ones that give everyone a fair shot at success, reflecting bedrock American belief in the individual’s ability to succeed through hard work.

Internationally, in 2013, Americans would like to stop the world and just get off. More than eight-in-ten think that Washington should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems at home. Such isolationism has a long history in the United States. But it is on the rise, up 10 percentage points in just the last decade.

This aversion to engagement could have an impact next year on U.S. policies in the Middle East. Six-in-ten Americans want the Obama administration to be less involved in the region, especially in leadership changes, such as the possible change in Damascus. With regard to the war in Syria, a similar percentage say that the United States does not have a responsibility to do something about the fighting there, a sentiment in potential conflict with president Obama’s vow to intervene if the Syrian government moves to use chemical weapons in the conflict.   

2013 will also be a fateful year for the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, as the White House and Pentagon work out the drawdown schedule for the American troops there. For most of the American public, this can’t happen quickly enough. Six-in-ten want the troops removed as soon as possible, up from just 40 percent in 2010.

The desire for disengagement is not evident, however, with regard to the public’s views about Iran. Americans see Tehran’s nuclear weapons program as the greatest international threat to the well-being of the United States. And more than half (56 percent) think that it is more important to take a firm stand with Iran than to avoid a military conflict. This resolve could get tested in the New Year.

A similar public willingness to support confrontation contrary to general isolationist sentiment can be expected in Washington’s relations with Beijing in 2013. Nearly half of Americans think that their government should get tougher on China and such sentiment is up nine percentage points in a year-and-a-half. The Obama administration has already brought more cases against China in the World Trade Organization than did the Bush administration. Americans would seem to support more of the same in 2013.

So the American public looks to 2013 with a mixture of economic pessimism, frustration with domestic economic inequities, isolationism and a touch of continued assertiveness. This is an inward-looking America, but one that can be provoked.


soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. James

    Some of the statistics are flawed based on party politics. For example the 25% quoted that see the US worse in 2013 is commensurate with the percentage of die hard Republicans in the country. It doesn't matter what they really think since they will always say what will discredit the President. The statistics don't measure motives.

    December 28, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Reply
    • Just For Fun

      I would assume since you’re a diehard lib that you will always say everything is just rosy. In my area since the election about 30 people I know have lost their JOBS. But event though several I know for sure voted for O'Blamma. I guess they are wrong to say things look bad.

      December 31, 2012 at 8:49 am | Reply
  2. deniz boro

    The world population no longer wants an economy that is triggered by war footing. The new age and generation calls for a new and finer adjustment. This trend started in the Flower Children. But took hold later in many other approaches including the green movement.
    USA has the power to be the leader of the world in this new era. Actually it is THE power to do so. It was the power behind so many improvements and this is but a simple one.
    Being a world power is not "DOMINATING". It is LEADING.

    December 28, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Reply
  3. Quigley

    The one that none of us Americans with any sense at all should want is a senseless war with Iran. We have effectively been at war with Iran since 1953 when we overthrew that country's legitimate government and installed the much hated Shah Reza Pahlavi with his much dreaded SAVAK to terrorize the Iranian people. Moreover, we need to quit trying to take over those countries over there and get our own house here in order!

    December 29, 2012 at 12:49 am | Reply
  4. zaeed

    i hope that russia soon realizes that the only way forward is to nuke ireland drop a nuke on dublin and cork then nuke the basque people of the northern spain then nuke the helll out of that filth country ghana please putin take note of by comment.

    December 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    Americans are erratic and moody. This economic pessimism will dissipate in spring.

    December 31, 2012 at 7:39 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      It isn't hard to see, why most Americans have enough of interventionist policies abroad.

      December 31, 2012 at 7:41 am | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        A firmer stand with Iran, which doesn't exclude a military foray would be a mistake.

        December 31, 2012 at 7:42 am |
  6. Suryaedywinata

    Ria,rabana my exs mother in law stealing my under wear at kepri(INDONESIA)and thens make it my under wear with magics want to kill me and my family with magics.

    January 1, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  7. Name* Hon. Rob't. F. Frazier, Esq..n

    Piersm Morgan's ratings are down drastically. This is because has lost perspective, no longer reports news, has taken a highly emotional personal position on guns for which he is intellectually & factually unprepaired. His arguments Ares almost always factually flawed, & he behaves rudely, dismissively, demeaningly, & inter-ruptively towards show guests who disagree with him supporting their arguments with facts & true studies & stattistics

    January 2, 2013 at 5:12 am | Reply
  8. Tyrone

    HOW WOULD THE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION SCREEN OUT THE CRAZY TRICKER HAPPY RACIST

    Politician are stupid especially if that politician is a Tea Party Republican. Republican Governors in 22 states have past some form of “Stand Your Ground Laws”! These laws make “Contract Killers” a legal profession. Situation like the Trayvon Martin murder are made possible because of these laws and the possibility of getting away with murder. To think “UNARMED” American citizen can be shot dead!! Then blame for their death by their murderer under “Stand Your Ground Laws” ! America is fast to criticize Muslim countries for their barbaric and immoral treatment of their citizen. Many time approaching the “United Nation” for other country to get on broad with criticism of Muslim evil treatment against their citizen. At the same time American are treating American worse!@!!

    A man who worked for the New Jersey Department of Corrections grabbed a female officer’s gun and opened fire shooting three officers before being shot and killed by police. The suspect had been brought into the Gloucester Township station for a domestic incident and was being processed when he got into a confrontation with officers, during which he grabbed the female officer’s gun. One of the officers was shot below his bulletproof vest and is undergoing surgery. The NRA President stated the country needs more guns! All three officer had guns and it was one of their guns that shot them ..IN A POLICE STATION!!!!! As a former Correction Officer in a maximum security prison. It was against policy to bring a gun inside the prison around convicted felons!

    The NRA President stated to stop gun violent in schools. America needs to arm teachers and or security! WAKE UP! WAKE UP PARENTS!!!!...Parent “MUST” asked if the arm person part of the discipline in the school? If a student bully another student will the bullying student face the armed personnel? Will the armed security be in uniform to be identify by students and or the “BAD PERSON”? What type of gun will be permitted and where will it be kept by teacher? What would be the screening process to be armed in a school. Would the school administration be able to screen out the hot head and tricker happy? Something the police force and military has not done from it’s beginning!

    Would it be the same screening as George Zimmerman a man that had total hatred for black males? Or on the same level of screening a Michael Dunn who is irritated by black music? Both had back ground check to carry guns! Both shot and killed two 17 year old black males and felt justify!!!! How would the school screen out racist and child molesters? Like George Zimmerman has been accuse of? Both the “Columbine High School” shooting and the “Georgia Tech shooting” had armed security and DID NOT prevent the mass murders!!!!First, the vast majority of "crazy people" have never been diagnosed. Adam Lanza wouldn't have shown up on Wayno's database. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris wouldn't have been there either. Nor would Jared Lee Loughner.

    If you want a national database of the "deranged," you'll need a much more robust mental health system - one that thoroughly screens every single one of us, and somehow manages to identify future killers through the early, scant traces of aberrant behavior. Second, "crazy people" as a group are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Relatively few are the slavering, uncontrollable monsters of LaPierre's imagination. Many are passive or withdrawn*, unable to defend themselves or resist criminal assault. And all would be branded, as if by a scarlet letter "C", as potential killers in a National Registry of the Crazy.

    January 2, 2013 at 5:30 am | Reply

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