Melania Trump, right, looks on as her husband President-elect Donald Trump talks to reporters during a New Year's Eve party at Mar-a-Lago, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Evan Vucci / AP
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So long 2017, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. It’s been … interesting, but most Americans don’t think the last 12 months have been particularly good for the country, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
In total, just 29 percent of Americans say the country is headed in the right direction, while more than twice as many, 63 percent, say the United States is on the wrong track.
And those figures have gotten worse since January. Just before President Donald Trump was inaugurated, 37 percent of Americans said the country was headed in the right direction and 52 percent said it was on the wrong track.
As bad as though numbers sound, however, Americans have been down on the state of the country for some time. The “right direction” number has largely been stuck in the 20s or 30s. In December of 2015, the “right direction” number was 20 percent. It got as low as 17 percent in October of 2011.
Viewed through that prism, the 29 percent at the end of 2017, sadly, looks par for the course. For the last few years, New Year’s Eve has been less a celebration of things to come than an exasperated sigh of relief in the United States.
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How did 2017 compare to other years? The answer to that question depends very much on who you are and, to some extent, how you feel about President Donald Trump.
Overall, 21 percent of Americans said it was above average or one of the best years for the country, while 47 percent said it was average or better.
Republicans, however, said they had a great 2017. Nearly half of all Republicans, 44 percent, said the year was above average or one of the best years. Almost 80 percent said it was average or better.
Democrats saw it very differently – only 18 percent said 2017 was average or better, while 81 percent rated it as below average or one of the worst.
Clearly, some of that partisan split is the Trump effect. The new president was the dominant political story for 2017 and these numbers show his impact as a polarizing figure. The good year/bad year question came during a poll that was full of inquiries about the White House and Washington, meaning people were answering that question with their mind locked in a political context.
That may help explain some of the “gender gap” on the good year/bad year question. Men tend to be more supportive of Trump and more than half, 56 percent, said 2017 was average or better. Among women, who are generally less supportive of the president, only 38 percent described the year as average or better.
And more than half of the white, non-Hispanic people in the poll, 52 percent, rated 2017 as average or better. Far fewer African Americans, 23 percent, and Hispanics, 36 percent, gave the year an average or better rating. Those numbers make sense when one considers the Trump effect. Whites are much more likely to approve of the Trump presidency than minority groups
Even if President Trump was the political story of the year, however, there were other news events that rated higher as being the most “significant and important” in the NBC/WSJ poll.
The top news events of 2017 according to the poll were “mass shootings, such as the ones in Las Vegas and Texas” and “the number of natural disasters including hurricanes, floods and wildfires.” The “inauguration of Donald Trump” finished third on the list.
It may be something of a surprise that the recent flood of stories around “sexual harassment revelations and the me too movement” didn’t rate higher as one of the most “significant and important” stories of 2017 (they were fifth on the list) but there was something of a partisan aspect to that divide as well.
Among Democrats, the collection of stories rated third on the list behind mass shootings and natural disasters, with 25 percent saying those stories were significant and important to them. With independent voters, the sexual harassment stories were also seen as the third most significant and important, 22 percent rated them as such. But among Republicans, only 8 percent said the harassment stories were among the most significant and important.
And as the New Year arrives, that may sum up the divided state of the nation’s politics. Voters are not only talking past each other on the president or on policy, they don’t even agree on the importance of the story that has arguably defined news coverage this fall and will likely play a big role in the months ahead.
So, welcome 2018. Meet the American political scene. Good luck.