Political resolve is hard to find

If I’m a political party or a candidate launching my campaign, I want resolute followers, don’t I? It’s not enough to have fans; I need raving fans, tireless and fiercely loyal foot-soldiers. There’s only one problem in filling this order these days — there just aren’t many resolute Americans anymore, at least with resolve about politics. 

Don’t believe me? Just peek at the results of polls conducted recently on the topic of New Year’s resolutions. Most Americans don’t even bother making resolutions anymore. And those that do are mostly worried about health, not congressional or partisan score-keeping. But we’ll get back to that.

I tried to round up most of the public polls on the topic of resolutions. One in particular that I sought was by Rasmussen. That pollster had collected data on our resolutions for 2009 and 2010, so I looked forward to some trend analysis on 2011 resolve. It appears that the topic was so vapid that Rasmussen has moved on, conducting a New Year’s attitudes poll without mentioning resolutions. Not an encouraging start. What I did find in other polls probably explains the paucity of interest by Rasmussen.

A Reuters poll found that 44 percent of U.S. residents “might” make a resolution, meaning that a landslide majority weren’t even willing to fake it, feigning resolve to impress interviewers. George Barna’s polling group got closer to the truth, discovering that only one in five Americans will “definitely” make a resolution. To be more precise, Barna found that only 19 percent “planned” to definitely make a resolution. How many actually followed through on those plans is unknown. And how many will keep their resolutions? Barna’s polling revealed that merely 23 percent of those who allegedly made resolutions last year feel that they made “significant, long-term change” in behaviors or thinking. Almost half (49 percent) of those feigning resolve for 2010 experienced no change at all.

The trends are not good either. Marist polling this year found that 56 percent of Americans said they were “not likely at all” to make any resolutions. That’s 4 points up from comparable polling conducted a year earlier.

So if you are a party or politician looking for resolute followers, the pickings may be slim. But didn’t Barna say that one in five of us is a candidate for recruitment? That represents more than 40 million potential fan boys (and girls). There is only one problem with this line of reasoning: almost none of the 40 million are overtly resolute about politics. 

When Barna asked about the object of their resolve, things like weight-loss, health, addictions and personal finances predominated. Barna, whose organization focuses on attitudes toward religion and the spiritual life, regretfully reported that just 5 percent were making faith-oriented resolutions. But his clients are better off than those seeking the political faithful. Barna’s published results don’t go deep enough into the weeds to show that anyone made political resolutions. He reports nothing less than 4 percent. But the Marist poll does, and there I finally found it. One percent of American adults resolve in 2011 to “get politically involved,” something like a couple of million adults. Given that probably one-half of those resolute few are already in the Washington D.C. area, looking for the resolute elsewhere is a challenge.

My point, lest it get lost here, is that Americans have lots on their minds besides politics when it comes to goals for change. Far more are focused on health and wellness than on roll calls and motions to table. So as Republicans in Congress move to “fix” healthcare in the weeks ahead, they should do so very carefully, bearing in mind that there is more resolve among Americans about health than politics.

David Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican campaigns and causes since 1984.