EDITOR'S NOTE _ Digits is Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta's take on the numbers that reflect our world and the survey research techniques used to find them.
About half of Americans expect 2014 to be a better year than 2013, according to the recent AP-Times Square New Year's Eve poll. And judging by the typical questions pollsters use to measure the public mood, it doesn't seem like it could be much worse.
A look at how the public rated the nation's performance in 2013:
RIGHT DIRECTION? NOT QUITE YET
Whether people think the nation is heading the right way or the wrong way is a basic measure of optimism that pollsters have used for decades to gauge the public mood. In AP-GfK polling this year, few thought the United States had found the right path.
The December AP-GfK poll showed the share of Americans who feel the nation is heading in the right direction rebounded to 34 percent from its October low of 22 percent, but it's not clear yet whether that's a directional shift or just a temporary recovery — what Wall Street calls a dead-cat bounce.
On average in this year's AP-GfK polls, 33 percent said the country was heading the right way, down from 38 percent in 2012 but about on par with the 2011 average of 32 percent. That 2011 figure marked the low point of President Barack Obama's time in office.
This year, average "right direction" numbers among Republicans (10 percent) and independents (24 percent) are at new lows for Obama's term, but Democrats buoy this year's figure with 54 percent saying the nation is on the right path, a bit above 2011's average of 47 percent.
OBAMA'S APPROVAL FALLS
Obama's approval ratings shifted notably this year, landing in negative territory on average for the first time in his presidency. In AP-GfK polling conducted this year that averaged the president's approval rating, 46 percent approved of the president's job performance, while 50 percent disapproved.
This year marks the first substantial dip in the president's approval since 2010. After a well-regarded first year (58 percent approval on average in 2009), Obama's approval rating dipped to 50 percent in 2010, then generally held steady — 51 percent on average approved in 2011, 52 percent in 2012.
LITTLE LOVE FOR CONGRESS
About 82 percent of Americans disapproved of the way Congress handled its job this year, according to an average of AP-GfK polls. That's 20 points higher than average disapproval rate in 2009 and the worst since the inception of the AP-GfK poll in 2008. In a rare show of party unity, disapproval of Congress topped 80 percent among both Democrats (83 percent) and Republicans (87 percent).
THE ECONOMIC BRIGHT SPOT?
One positive note: More now say the economy is in good shape than have at any prior point in Obama's tenure, though the rating remains fairly anemic. Overall, 26 percent on average described the economy as "good" in this year's polling, up from an average of 23 percent in 2012, 17 percent in 2011, 19 percent in 2010 and an abysmal 11 percent in 2009.
Still, people don't hold much hope for the economy's prospects. Asked to look ahead a year, 37 percent of Americans in the December AP-GfK poll said they thought the general economic situation would worsen, while 33 percent thought it would improve. And while 32 percent thought the number of unemployed Americans would drop, 36 percent thought more people would lose jobs than get them in 2014.