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Poll: Americans hopeful for a better year in 2014

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2013, file photo, donfetti flies over New York's Times Square after the clock strikes midnight during the New Year's Eve celebration as seen from the Marriott Marquis hotel in New York. As Americans prepare to ring in 2014, they look to the new year with an optimistic eye, according to a new AP-Times Square New Year’s Eve poll, while their ratings of the year gone by are less than glowing.  (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2013, file photo, donfetti flies over New York's Times Square after the clock strikes midnight during the New Year's Eve celebration as seen from the Marriott Marquis hotel in New York. As Americans prepare to ring in 2014, they look to the new year with an optimistic eye, according to a new AP-Times Square New Year’s Eve poll, while their ratings of the year gone by are less than glowing. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

A large number of Americans see 2013 as anything but a banner year and aren’t reluctant to wave goodbye on New Year’s Eve, a new AP-Times Square poll says, reflecting anxiety stretching from the corridors of power in Washington to corporate boardrooms, statehouses, and city and town halls.

Although the poll shows that people generally are looking forward to the new year with optimism and no blatant sense of foreboding, it also unmasks pent-up worries about international crises and instability, and concerns at home about the standard of living, health care and schools.

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).

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.

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 under way. 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 such as 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).

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