By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press
 
Ready to ring in the new year, Americans look ahead with optimism, according to a new AP-Times Square New Year’s Eve poll. Their ratings of the year gone by? Less than glowing.
 
What the public thought of 2013:GOOD YEAR OR GOOD RIDDANCE?On the whole, Americans rate their own experience in 2013 more positively than negatively, but when asked to assess the year for the United States or the world at large, things turn sour.

—All told, 32 percent say 2013 was a better year for them than 2012, while 20 percent say it was worse and 46 percent say the two years were really about the same. Young people were more apt to see improvement: 40 percent of people under age 30 called 2013 a better year than 2012, compared with 25 percent of people age 65 or older.

—The public splits evenly on how the year turned out for the country, 25 percent saying it was better than 2012, 25 percent saying it was worse. As with most questions about the state of affairs in the U.S. these days, there’s a sharp partisan divide. Democrats are more apt to say the U.S. turned out better in 2013 than 2012 (37 percent) than are Republicans (17 percent).

—Thinking about the world at large, 30 percent say 2013 was worse than 2012, while just 20 percent say it was better.

But the outlook for the new year is positive: 49 percent think their own fortunes will improve in 2014, 14 percent are anticipating the new year to be a downgrade from the old. Thirty-four percent say they don’t expect much to change.

WHERE’S THE PARTY?

Most Americans — 54 percent — say they’ll be ringing in the new year at home, while 1 in 5 are heading to a friend’s or family member’s house. Only 8 percent say they’ll go to a bar, restaurant or other organized event.

—Younger Americans are least apt to spend the holiday at home: 39 percent of those under age 30 will celebrate at home, 33 percent at someone else’s home, 13 percent at a bar or other venue.

—Regardless of their own time zone, nearly 6 in 10 say they’ll watch at least some of the celebration from New York City’s Times Square.

COUNTDOWN COMPANIONS

Wherever they’re spending the holiday, most Americans prefer the company of family. Asked with whom they want to be when the clock strikes midnight, 83 percent name a family member.

—On a holiday often sealed with a kiss, nearly 4 in 10 say they most want to be next to their spouse, and 13 percent cite a significant other or romantic interest as a preferred companion. Parents like to be with their children, more than the children like to be with their parents.

—Less conventional choices: 2 percent cite their pets, 3 percent God, Jesus or their religious congregation, and less than 1 percent said they wanted to ring it in with their co-workers.

—Of course, some opt out altogether: 18 percent say they’re not planning to celebrate on New Year’s Eve, and 9 percent say there’s no one with whom they’d like to party, preferring instead their pillow, TiVo or their own thoughts.

WHAT MATTERED IN NEWS

The implementation of the health care law topped the list of the most important news stories of 2013, with 26 percent citing it. In an Associated Press survey of news directors and editors, 45 of 144 journalists surveyed called the health care rollout their top story.

In the AP-Times Square poll, the death of Nelson Mandela occurred as the poll was underway. It rose quickly, with 8 percent naming it as the most important news of the year, matching the share citing the federal government’s budget difficulties or shutdown.

The budget fight, which led to a partial shutdown of the federal government in October, was rated extremely or very important by 60 percent of Americans, and prompted rare bipartisan agreement. About two-thirds in each major party, 65 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats, rated it highly important.

A majority said the Boston Marathon bombings were extremely or very important, and 47 percent considered the national debate over gun laws that important.

POP CULTURE: MOSTLY FORGETTABLE MOMENTS

Miley Cyrus’s MTV Video Music Awards performance. The launch of “Lean In.” Apologies from Paula Deen and Lance Armstrong. Walter White’s exit and the entrance of the Netflix series “House of Cards.” What do they all have in common? More Americans say these pop culture moments were more forgettable than memorable.

Just one pop culture moment was deemed more memorable than forgettable: The birth of Prince George to Britain’s Prince William and his wife, Kate.

—Among men, 64 percent called the debate on work-life balance sparked by the book “Lean In” and other writings forgettable. About half of women agreed.

—About 1 in 5 younger Americans said the launch of original programming through streaming services like Netflix or Hulu was a memorable moment, about doubling the share among those age 50 and up.

—Residents of the West were more likely than others to consider memorable the San Francisco “Batkid” (31 percent) or the final season of the series “Breaking Bad” (19 percent).

The AP-Times Square New Year’s Eve Poll was conducted by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications from Dec. 5-9 and involved online interviews with 1,367 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all respondents.

The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, a probability-based Internet panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents to the survey were first selected randomly, using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta

AP-GfK Poll: No agreement on how to pay for highways

By JOAN LOWY and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Small wonder Congress has kept federal highway and transit programs teetering on the edge of insolvency for years, unable to find a politically acceptable long-term source of funds. The public can’t make up its mind on how to pay for them either.

Six in 10 Americans think the economic benefits of good highways, railroads and airports outweigh the cost to taxpayers. Yet there is scant support for some of the most frequently discussed options for paying for construction of new roads or the upkeep of existing ones, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Among those who drive places multiple times per week, 62 percent say the benefits outweigh the costs. Among those who drive less than once a week or not at all, 55 percent say the costs of road improvement are worthwhile.

Yet a majority of all Americans — 58 percent — oppose raising federal gasoline taxes to fund transportation projects such as the repair, replacement or expansion of roads and bridges. Only 14 percent support an increase. And by a better than 2-to-1 margin, Americans oppose having private companies pay for construction of new roads and bridges in exchange for the right to charge tolls. Moving to a usage tax based on how many miles a vehicle drives also draws more opposition than support — 40 percent oppose it, while 20 percent support it.

Support for shifting more responsibility for paying for such projects to state and local government is a tepid 30 percent.

“Congress is actually reflecting what people want,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, a transportation think tank. “People want to have a federal (transportation) program and they don’t want to pay for it.”

Last week, Congress cobbled together $10.8 billion to keep transportation aid flowing to states by changing how employers fund worker pension programs, extending customs user fees and transferring money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks. The money was needed to make up a shortfall between aid promised to states and revenue raised by the federal 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax and the 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax, which haven’t been increased in more than 20 years.

It’s the fifth time in the last six years that Congress has patched a hole in the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for highway and transit aid. Each time it gets more difficult for lawmakers to find the money without increasing the federal budget deficit. Critics described the pension funding changes used this time as budget gimmicks that would cost the government more in the long run and undermine employee pension programs.

The latest patch cleared Congress about three hours before midnight last Thursday, the day before the Transportation Department said it would begin cutting back aid payments to states. The current fix is only expected to cover the revenue gap through next May, when Congress will be back where it started unless lawmakers act sooner.

The most direct solution would be to raise fuel taxes. That’s what three blue-ribbon federal commissions have recommended. But opposition to a gas tax increase cuts across party lines, although Republicans are more apt to oppose an increase, 70 percent, than Democrats, 52 percent.

“Every time we turn around there’s another tax, and our gas taxes are so high now,” said James Lane, 52, of Henry County in rural south-central Virginia, who described himself as leaning toward the GOP.

Lane favors allowing companies to pay for the construction of new or expanded roads and bridges in exchange for the right impose tolls on motorists, often for many decades. There have been projects like that in Virginia, but since those roads are in more populated areas of the state where he doesn’t drive it makes sense to have the people who use them pay for them, he said.

But Michael Murphy, 63, a data services contractor who lives near San Antonio, Texas, where a high-speed public-private toll road is scheduled to open this fall, said he’d rather see gas taxes increased than tolls imposed on drivers. Roads benefit everyone, even if indirectly, so it’s only fair that everyone who drives pays something toward their cost, he said.

A majority of those surveyed, 56 percent, say traffic in the area where they live has gotten worse in the last five years. Only 6 percent say traffic has improved in their area, and 33 percent that it’s stayed about the same.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents, larger for subgroups.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy


AP-GfK poll: Americans ready to close the book on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Three in four Americans think history will judge the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as failures, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows that about the same percentage think it was right to pull forces from the two countries.

Americans surveyed in last month’s poll were not optimistic about the chance that a stable democratic government will be established in either country. Seventy-eight percent said it was either not too likely or not at all likely in Afghanistan and 80 percent said the same about Iraq.

Roughly three out of four Americans polled think that in hindsight, each war will be deemed as an outright “complete failure” or “more of a failure than success.”

A majority of those polled, or 70 percent, said the United States was right to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011 and pull most U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by December. The two conflicts have consumed the nation for more than a decade and claimed the lives of 6,800 U.S. troops.

Nelson Philip, 73, of Oswego, Illinois, is of two minds. He judges the Afghan war a failure, but wants U.S. troops to stay in countries that remain in turmoil.

“What’s so successful about it? We didn’t do anything there. The Taliban. They’re still there. We haven’t done anything and now we’re pulling everybody out of there,” Philip said. “And now this Islamic group is over there taking over Iraq.”

The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are distinct. But in each, the U.S. has spent more than a decade trying to set up democratic governments that could effectively police their own territories and stamp out threats to the American homeland. And in both countries that objective is in peril — their futures threatened by a combination of poor leadership, weak institutions, interethnic rivalry, insurgencies and extremist rebellions.

Americans surveyed in the poll think more bad news is on the horizon.

Fifty percent — up 18 points in the past seven months — think the situation in Afghanistan will get worse. Fifty-eight percent — up from 16 percent in December 2009 — expect conditions in Iraq will worsen. The poll was conducted shortly after Sunni extremists conducted an offensive that shattered security in Iraq.

The rapid advance by the extremist Islamic State group, which captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and overran much of northern and western Iraq, has plunged the country into its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011.

Melody Fisher, a 58-year-old midwife from Prescott, Ariz., was among the roughly 25 percent who didn’t think it was time yet for American troops to return from Afghanistan, where about 2,340 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed. She said she wasn’t convinced that the U.S. had finished its work there.

“I used to work with refuges so I’m very aware of the conditions that people have to live in,” said Fisher, a midwife who spent time helping resettle Cambodian refugees. “Our country, our nation, has no idea about the day-to-day things that people have to go through in many places.”

People over 50 expressed far more pessimism about the ultimate outcome of the two conflicts than their younger counterparts.

Sixty-two percent of those over 50 said the situation in Afghanistan would get worse in the coming year, compared with 40 percent of younger Americans. On Iraq, that gap is even larger, with 72 percent age 50 or older expecting things to get worse compared with 47 percent of those under age 50.

Older Americans also are more likely to think the U.S. war in Afghanistan will be judged a failure in the future; 86 percent of those 50 or older feel that way, compared with 64 percent among those under age 50. They are also more likely to doubt that a stable democratic government will be established there; 88 percent age 50 or older say it’s unlikely to happen compared with 70 percent age 18 to 49.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. It is larger for subgroups.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Associated Press director of polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com