If you think this has been a pretty tough year, you are not alone.
The annual Global Advisor survey conducted around the world by Ipsos records that a majority of us, 53%, think 2023 has been a bad year for us and our family.
Worse, a significantly greater proportion, 70%, say it has been a bad year for their country. This finding perhaps explains the widespread disillusionment with politics and, often, the governments in power.
Let’s face it: things have not gone well abroad or at home in 2023. The second year of war in Ukraine has been joined by the vicious conflagration in the seemingly intractable confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis.
Dozens of other insurgencies and regional wars are being fought out around the world.
In the UK the economy is teetering on the brink of recession as the cost of living pinches. Inflation hit a record high this century, so have NHS waiting lists and immigration into this country.
In spite of all these challenges and suffering, optimism remains an essential element of the human spirit. There are some reasons to be cheerful at the end of this year and as we head into the next.
Things may be bad but we seem to think that things have improved a little bit over the past twelve months, and we are looking forward to them getting better in 2024.
Even the grim majority judging this to be a bad year is smaller than twelve months ago, and has at last recovered to levels before the life-changing COVID pandemic. Worldwide 70% think that next year will be better than this one – up by 5% last year.
Great Britain comes 26th out of the 35 nations picked out by Ipsos, with 64% “optimistic that 2024 will be a better year for me than 2023”. That is just below Spain (66%) and the US (65%) but better than Italy (59%), Germany (57%) and France (46%).
There are still major financial worries; though here the gloom lifted slightly to its lowest since the end of 2021.
Ipsos’ net economic optimism index is still pessimistic at -28, but it is now moving in the right direction.
Only 22% think the economy will improve in the next year but that is up +3 from last month.
A sobering 50% say it will get worse, though that is down five. Still, stock markets are up and the expectations are that energy costs are heading downward.
A major factor behind the gradual return in confidence may be that people feel less powerless.
Many have the opportunity to make changes next year. More people than ever, around four billion globally, will have the chance to take part in elections next year in more than 70 countries, some 40 of which are considered to be free and fair democracies.
Not all these elections hold out the possibility of regime change.
That could happen in general elections in the US on 5 November, and in the UK, sometime next year and not the last possible date in January 2025, according to the prime minister.
There are also general or presidential elections in South Korea, South Africa, Pakistan, India and Russia – in descending order of those likely to be fair.
The elections for the European Parliament across the EU will give an important indication of the strength of populist concerns about immigration.
The British prime minister has not yet delivered his pledge to “stop the boats” but he can claim credit for reducing the number crossing the Channel by a third – largely through increased co-operation with Albania and France, rather than the expensive and stymied deportation to Rwanda policy.
After the three prime ministers in 2022 and the turmoil of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak has brought stability to UK politics, just as things seem settled for now in the British monarchy.
He has not been rewarded with loyalty from his own MPs, and they remain perhaps the greatest threat to his chances of holding the election at the time of his choosing – seemingly next autumn, as he chalks up two years in 10 Downing Street.
Labour’s lead in the opinion polls remains commanding, although over the year it has trimmed from an average of 20% to 18%. Labour’s strength has been confirmed in local elections and by-election victories.
These also included a decline in support for the Scottish National Party, which could be a decisive factor in a clear victory for Sir Keir Starmer. There will be another by-election test early in 2024 in Peter Bone’s former seat of Wellingborough.
In the general election year, the pressure will be on Sir Keir as an apparent prime minister in waiting.
The Conservatives are already targeting him as a “lefty lawyer”. Much more importantly for the health of the country, Labour will be under intense scrutiny for its own policies and ideas to rebuild the country, rather than simply pointing to the failures of the Conservatives over the past 13 years.
Whatever the outcome of the British general election of 2024 there will be a major clear out and refresh of the compromised and discredited political elite. Over 70 incumbent MPs have announced their intention of standing down, more than 50 of them Conservatives.
That figure is expected to climb towards 100 once the poll is imminent.
Jeopardy seems greater in the United States, where one way or another the Donald Trump issue will be settled.
There is an urgent need for that. Current conventional wisdom is that he is on course to secure the Republican nomination, and narrow favourite to beat Joe Biden in November.
I believe that democracy in America is not so supine. I expect that campaign 2024 will be tumultuous. Mr Trump has deepening legal problems and most Americans think Mr Biden is too old to be re-elected. It is too soon to conclude that either or both will be the main candidates come the vote.
Twenty-two months after Russia’s all-out attack, and a decade after its occupation of some of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has still not conquered his neighbour, after the loss of over 300,000 of his troops.
There are concerns about Ukraine-fatigue and the willingness of Western allies to sustain Ukraine’s defence.
But Nato has revived and embraced Ukraine while the EU has accepted it as an applicant country. Mr Putin will never prevail in extinguishing Ukraine as an independent nation.
It is even harder to identify glimmers of hope in the ongoing bloodshed in the Middle East – the horrific terror attack on Israel by Hamas and the heavy-handed response by Israel to track down killers who are using the civilian population of Gaza and their Israeli hostages as human shields. At least the war has not yet spread across the region.
After decades of negligence by the international community, it is apparent that neither the status quo before the 7 October attack nor the respective policies of the Netanyahu and Hamas-led governments are viable going forward.
Nobody has a better answer than a two-state solution, which has been increasingly advocated by foreign governments including the UK, US and EU. Whatever the belligerents are saying, my expectation is that over time a two-state solution will be imposed, by external international pressure if necessary.
The Ipsos survey identified other major global concerns. 2023 has been the hottest year on record and 81% expect average global temperatures will be higher in 2024. A majority think artificial intelligence will cost more jobs than it creates. 59% expect to spend more time in the office and less working from home.
Each of these can be subject to a glass-half-full or half-empty analysis. This has already been applied to this December’s COP28 which the UN says signals “the beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era.
Most of us are only just waking up to the possibilities opened by AI, while lawmakers are rightly alert to its implications. Similarly we are still feeling our way towards the best hybrid balances for work and home; when we get there both productivity and well-being will improve.
This season we should not let these great challenges get us down. We have good reasons to hope for a happier new year.