Dec 31, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive poll: America's fears rise for 2022

Percent who say they were/are more fearful about the upcoming year
Data: Momentive/SurveyMonkey; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

Americans are less optimistic and more nervous about what 2022 has in store for the world than they were heading into 2021, according to a new Axios/Momentive poll.

  • And this year, democracy ranked second among the issues survey respondents said matter most to them, behind jobs and the economy and just ahead of health care.
  • "COVID" and "Trump" were the top two words people said they'd like to hear less in 2022. The top word people said they'd like to do more of: Travel.
A word cloud shows the things Americans say they'd like to hear less of in 2022, including COVID and Trump
Data: Momentive

The big picture: The overall findings are comparable to recent pre-pandemic, year-ahead polls conducted by Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey). But compared with last year's poll, they show a souring of the national mood after an unusually optimistic view of what 2021 could be.

  • "The end of last year was a particularly hopeful time," partly because there was a change in the presidency but also because we'd just been through the first year of COVID and everyone thought things could only get better after 2020, said Laura Wronski, senior manager for research science at Momentive.
  • "I think after this year we realized it's not going to magically get better, that we're going to have to live with COVID for a while."

By the numbers: More than half of the people in our survey — 54% — said they're more fearful than hopeful about what's in store for the world in 2022, while 44% said they're more hopeful.

  • That's a sharp turnaround from last year's survey, when 63% said they were more hopeful about the world in 2021 and 36% said they were more fearful.
  • While Republicans were more pessimistic than Democrats and independents both years, all three groups turned more negative in this year's survey, with 69% of Republicans, 45% of Democrats and 47% of independents saying they were more fearful than hopeful.
  • In addition, 51% said they were more fearful than hopeful about what's in store for the U.S. in 2022, including 66% of Republicans, 41% of Democrats and 46% of independents.

Yes, but: Even with the Omicron variant spreading across the country, 61% of Americans said they're more hopeful than fearful about what's ahead for the pandemic in 2022, with 37% saying they're more fearful.

  • That optimism was consistent across the board, with little variation by party, age, race or gender. It's down from last year, however, when 76% said they were more hopeful than fearful about COVID.
  • And despite their worries about the U.S. and the world, 68% said they're more hopeful than fearful about what 2022 has in store for them personally, with 30% saying they're more fearful.

What to watch: This year, 17% of the people in our survey said democracy was the issue that matters most to them right now, second only to jobs and the economy, at 31%.

  • That urgency was driven largely by Democrats — who ranked it as their highest priority, at 24% — and people with a college degree or higher, also at 24%.
  • Republicans also ranked democracy as a high priority, at 15%, while it was basically a non-issue for independents 7%.

Between the lines: Americans' pandemic fatigue was obvious from people's answers when asked what they'd like to hear less about in 2022: COVID and former President Donald Trump. (President Biden was a top choice among Republicans, too.)

  • Their choices of the best words to describe 2021 suggested fatigue as well: "exhausting" (43%), "worrisome" (43%) and "chaotic" (31%).
  • That's similar to the words people used to describe 2017 and 2018 as well, but that was more because of politics than COVID, Wronski said. "All of these factors are just multiplying right now, and it's hard to know what a normal year is because we haven't had that in a long time."
  • People's embrace of "travel" as what they want to do more of in 2022 is one sign that Americans still have hope for the future.

Methodology: This Momentive online poll was conducted Dec. 14-16 among a national sample of 2,602 adults. Respondents for this survey were selected from the more than 2 million people who take surveys on the SurveyMonkey platform each day. The modeled error estimate for this survey is plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over.

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