What Americans Fear (and Hope for) in 2016

A new year brings new challenges and fears. With that, AYTM set out to unearth the concerns of the American public, and their projections for 2016. We asked a nationally representative sample of 1000 individuals to tell us their hopes and fears for 2016 across an array of global, national, and personal situations. Their answers might surprise you.

Nation first?

Overall, national events indexed higher than both global and personal fears for all respondents. When questioned about national events, the majority of people (51%) feared another mass shooting in the US, above all other threats. It was also the highest indexing of all potential threats in the 3 categories. Donald Trump’s selection as the next US president was a close second, with 45% indicating they are very or extremely afraid of the election outcome. Tied for third at 45%, was the threat of a massive Islamist extremist attack on the US, and the fear of another financial crisis, like we saw in 2007.

However, almost half of respondents (47%) are afraid of the threat of a terrorist attack on any developed nation, while the continued rise of Islamic State has 44% of Americans afraid. In both these cases, the study found that younger respondents are less afraid than their elder peers. Younger respondents are considerably more afraid of countries such as Russia and North Korea gaining power, with 40% of those aged 25 and younger identifying these as their fears, compared to 25% of those 45 and older.

Word cloud of fearsImage: Word cloud of respondents’ main fears in 2016.

Personal Fears

When it comes to personal events that may affect Americans this year, the most common fear—by a significant margin—was something bad happening to a loved one or friend, at 37%. The fear of jobs loss followed at a distant second, at 28%. Interestingly, across all potential personal events surveyed, with the exception of “becoming seriously ill”, younger Americans are significantly more afraid than the rest of the population. At least 10% more young people stated their fear of falling into debt, being alone, being physically assaulted, gaining weight, and working so hard they won’t have time for other things.

It’s not all gloom

People were also asked what they were most optimistic about in 2016. 44% of respondents were very excited about the upcoming presidential election and 35% are looking forward to various sporting events. Respondents also shared optimism (48%) for advancements in medicine, to combat serious diseases, such as cancer and Ebola.

Word cloud of hopes

Image: Word cloud of respondents’ hopes for 2016

The American Concerns study from AYTM is a comprehensive look at what the people of the United States are afraid of and optimistic about in 2016. You can see the whole report, including visualizations, on our site. The report received extensive coverage on the Boston Globe, YAHOO! Finance, and Market Watch.

Note: We ran this survey shortly before the first case of the Zika virus was reported in Texas. Before then, only 24% of respondents feared the effect of potentially deadly viruses in 2016. We ran the study again to ensure it was comprehensive, specifically mentioning Zika as the deadly virus in question to gauge the potential new fears the Zika virus may have created in the US. The study found an increase of only 2.8% in the number of respondents afraid of Zika.