Mixed expectations

Examining the ups and downs of 2021.

The author(s)

  • Catherine Morris Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
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Year two of the pandemic draws to a close. What a rollercoaster it’s been.

In some ways, it feels like we’re right back where we were twelve months ago. At the start of the year, cases were rising to new heights. And today, once again, COVID levels are already breaking new records as we buckle down for another tough winter.

Yet also like last year, there is still hope on the horizon. Early last year, vaccines appeared to promise the end of COVID once and for all. While that did not play out exactly as hoped, we can take heart in the fact the current spike will cause less severe illness in some cases, in part because so many more people are vaccinated now.

Either way, COVID still overshadows many aspects of everyday life. As we count down the final hours of 2021, we take a look at the ups and downs people felt.

  1. Back to normal. How to define “normal” after a global pandemic? Last spring, many began to hope that a post-COVID normal was close at hand. Things have changed since, and opinion has shifted along with levels of concern about COVID. For the concerned, normal is still elusive. For more than half of the unconcerned, it’s already here. Back to normal


  2. Rise and fall. There were points last year where COVID genuinely did appear to be on the wane. Levels of concern about COVID tracked with it – down in the spring and early summer, up again with Delta and Omicron. COVID concern


  3. Reengaging with the world. People began socializing again once a majority of the adult population was vaccinated – whether or not they had received the shot. Although concern about the virus is still very much a part of daily life, few have been willing to relinquish those social bonds, once reestablished. Socializing


  4. Economic outlook stalls. Consumer sentiment grew stronger in the first part of 2021, only to backtrack amid rising inflation and economic uncertainty brought about by Delta and Omicron variants. Our jobs indicator was the only one to sustain a measurable improvement, per our Ipsos Forbes Advisor consumer confidence tracker over the course of 2021. Despite broader economic worries, the job market is generally strong at the moment. Jobs and Overall


  5. Tilting negative. Americans started out the year split on the overall direction of the country. As 2021 draws to a close, we’ve come more firmly down on the side of things spinning off track. Can 2022 restore some optimism? Wrong track


So, where does the close of 2021 leave us? Our Axios-Ipsos tracking data stops off in mid-December, so we wait to early 2022 for a full accounting of how Omicron has impacted people’s behavior and sentiment. But our available data indicates that the public is increasingly exasperated, and once again more concerned about the trajectory of the pandemic.

The author(s)

  • Catherine Morris Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs