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Despite Hints of Economic Recovery, Optimism’s Scarce for 2013

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With three-quarters of Americans saying the economy’s still in a recession, optimism both about personal and global prospects in the year ahead are at their lowest in 11 years. Nonetheless, unlike the past three years, a majority at least says an economic recovery’s begun.  

Optimism continues to trump pessimism in personal outlook: Fifty-three percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll are more hopeful than fearful about what 2013 holds in store for them personally.  Fewer -- 40 percent -- are more hopeful than fearful about the world’s prospects.

Both are down sharply, by 32 and 29 percentage points, respectively, from their highs in December 2003, to their lowest level in more than a decade.  The 56 percent who express fearfulness about the global outlook ties the high right before 2003, with war in Iraq imminent.

PARTISANSHIP: Political allegiances factor heavily into these views. Seventy-five percent of Democrats express personal optimism, matching its level after the 2008 elections, and their global optimism is just 6 points lower, now 61 percent. 

Among Republicans, a second consecutive loss is a lot to bear: Their personal and global optimism are nearly half their level vs. four years ago (25 vs. 44 percent, and 18 vs. 39 percent, respectively).

That mirrors trends after the 2004 election, when George W. Bush won his second term.  Personal optimism for the next year among Democrats dropped by 29 points from the previous year, and global optimism by 20 points, while optimism among Republicans was virtually unchanged.

Compared to 2008, hopefulness among independents has dropped by 12 and 10 points, respectively.  But party’s at play there also; Democratic-leaning independents are nearly identical in hopefulness to Democrats, while Republican-leaning independents look much like Republicans.

ECONOMY and THE CLIFF: Despite easing unemployment, Americans continue to feel the effects of the longest, deepest downturn since the Great Depression.  Seventy-six percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, think that the country still is in a recession, unchanged since April.

But the economy’s trajectory also matters.  On that, more than half -- 53 percent -- say that in their personal experience the nation’s economy has started to recover.  While that’s not significantly different than its level this March, it’s up by 17 points in the last year.

The increase is broadly based, occurring in nearly every group, albeit only up 10 points to 35 percent among Republicans (compared with a 25-point increase to 72 percent among Democrats) and by a slight seven points among conservatives, to 34 percent.

Yet even among those who say the recovery is underway, three-quarters say it’s a weak one.

While heavily influenced by partisanship, these perceptions still factor into expectations for the year ahead.  Personal and global optimism are 26 to 47 points higher among those who say the recession is over or the recovery has begun, compared with those who disagree.

The potential impacts of not reaching an agreement on the fiscal cliff weigh heavily on Americans as well: Three-quarters or more are concerned about its effects on the national economy, their personal finances, the government’s operations and the U.S. military.  And those who are very worried about these consequences are 17 to 22 points less optimistic about their personal outlook compared with those who are less worried.

See a PDF with full results, charts and tables here.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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