Fear index

Even Syrians are more optimistic about the future than US Republicans

December 24, 2012
December 24, 2012

Syrians, who are fighting a civil war in which 40,000 of them have died just this year, are still more optimistic about their own future than US Republicans, recent polls reveal. Republicans also are much less optimistic than Greeks, whose economy may still bring down the whole of Europe, and Afghans, who are hopeful despite three decades of on-and-off civil war.

A Gallup Poll of global sentiment concludes that Greeks are the most pessimistic people in the world, in fact much more so than Syrians. But the survey did not break down results by political party. If it had, US Republicans would have topped the list. A new Washington Post-ABC poll shows that 72% of Republicans are fearful about what 2013 holds in store for them personally. (In the same poll, just 20% of Democrats are fearful.)

According to Gallup, 42% of Greeks foresee a grimmer future, along with 33% of Syrians. And in a recent Asia Foundation poll, 52% of Afghans said their country is moving in the right direction.

What troubles Republicans?

The Republican fear factor is a gigantic leap into trepidation—in 2008, 54% of Republicans said they fear what is ahead; in 2006, the number in the same poll was just 20%. What troubles Republicans? It is fear for the world at large (79% expect a bleaker 2013, compared with 36% of Democrats) and the US economy in particular (82% are pessimistic about next year; 28% of Democrats feel that way).

But what about their personal situation did the Republican respondents fear? The poll does not appear to have asked. But oddly, 62% of Republicans are optimistic about their family’s financial situation next year,  lower than the 78% of cheery Democrats but a definitively rosy outlook.

One possibly correlating number is support for owning guns: If you own a weapon or support liberalized availability of them, you may be a hunter, but you may also seek protection against a perceived threat out there. In a Pew Poll released Dec. 20—after the Sandy Hook massacre in which a gunman murdered 20 first-grade students with a semi-automatic weapon—69% of Republicans said continuing to protect the right to own guns is more important than regulating ownership (72% of Democrats took the opposite view).

But are we talking fear, such as worry about personal safety, or something more idiosyncratic? Consider the Gallup poll, which also gauged “positive emotions” (this is a relevant question since one can reasonably regard fear of the future as a negative emotion). It found that 85% of Panamanians feel pretty good, compared with just 46% of Singaporeans, who are much wealthier on a GDP basis. Here are the questions that comprised the gauge of this good feeling:

Did you feel well-rested yesterday? Were you treated with respect all day yesterday? Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday? Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?

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