New year has blank canvas

A new year has dawned in America, and Americans, it appears, are hopeful.

They would also like to be forgetful about a generally disappointing 2011, which nearly seven out of every 10 people surveyed in an Associated Press-GfK poll released last week rated as another bad year.

We’ve had a string of them, in fact, dating back to 2007. The economic doldrums have been hard to shake, much like the lingering malaise that follows a bad case of influenza. You may be over the worst of it, but you feel tired and dragging.

Overall, 68 percent of those surveyed said 2011 was a bad year, with only 29 percent feeling it was a good one. Democrats had a higher percentage — 40 percent — with warm and fuzzy feelings about it, than did those who described themselves as Republicans or independents.

Looking down the calendar, however, more than three out of five respondents — 62 percent — were optimistic about prospects for this year, well ahead of the 36 percent who look into their 2012 glass and feel it’s already half empty. Not many are strongly optimistic — 14 percent — or strongly pessimistic — 11 percent — with most, 35 percent, somewhat optimistic about the new year.

And maybe it’s just the sense of renewal that comes from the changing of the calendar, but the percentage of people who think the economy will improve this year sprang ahead of the pessimists for the first time since, well, last spring. Thirty-seven percent think there’ll be economic improvement in 2012; 24 percent think it’ll slide down more. An even bigger gap — 36 percent to 11 percent — exists between those who think their own household’s financial situation will improve and those who believe theirs will get worse.

These are just feelings, but they have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophecy. Consumer confidence is a major indicator of economic strength. A business will only look at expanding and hiring more people if decision-makers in that business believe there is a climate conducive to that expansion.

The beauty of today is the canvas is blank. We can paint it as we see fit.

When this particular canvas is looked back upon in 366 days, let’s all hope we’re much happier with the picture than those of the past few years.