Who Will Be the Next President? Who Cares

A majority of Americans think an increase in community volunteering would have a bigger impact than electing a president they agree with.

National Journal
Nancy Cook
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Nancy Cook
May 9, 2014, 2:35 a.m.

This art­icle is part of a series on the May 2014 All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or poll.

Hil­lary Clin­ton or Ted Cruz? Rand Paul or Joe Biden? It may not mat­ter. The ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans be­lieve that an in­crease in com­munity act­iv­ism would have a more sig­ni­fic­ant im­pact on daily life than the can­did­ate they elect as pres­id­ent. 

That’s just one of the latest find­ings from the most re­cent All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll, which re­veals Amer­ic­ans’ pess­im­ism about the power of in­sti­tu­tions like the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to bring about change. 

Fifty-six per­cent of re­spond­ents told poll­sters that more vo­lun­teer­ing in their com­munity would have “a more pos­it­ive im­pact on [their] day-to-day life” than elect­ing a pres­id­ent who agrees with them on im­port­ant is­sues. Just 39 per­cent said that the elec­tion of a par­tic­u­lar pres­id­ent would have a great­er im­pact. 

Re­pub­lic­ans were far more likely than Demo­crats to place high­er value on the im­port­ance of whom they elect as pres­id­ent (by 53 to 34 per­cent). And young­er Amer­ic­ans, ages 18 to 29, had the most faith of any group in the im­pact of com­munity act­iv­ism — a full 73 per­cent said more com­munity vo­lun­teer­ing would bring about the greatest pos­it­ive change.

The re­sponses (and the pess­im­ism they re­veal about Amer­ic­ans’ at­ti­tudes to­ward the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment) fit with the rest of the poll, which shows that the ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans be­lieve the coun­try is on the wrong track. They also largely dis­ap­prove of the per­form­ance of both Con­gress and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The up­side of the polling res­ults? The ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans re­main con­fid­ent in their own abil­ity to bring about change in com­munit­ies both at the loc­al and the fed­er­al level. Re­spond­ents feel that com­munity groups, small busi­nesses, re­li­gious or­gan­iz­a­tions, av­er­age Amer­ic­ans, so­cial act­iv­ists, and state and loc­al gov­ern­ment hold the best chance of help­ing to tackle the coun­try’s ma­jor is­sues. That might ex­plain why even two-thirds of Amer­ic­ans who ap­prove of Pres­id­ent Obama’s per­form­ance in of­fice say com­munity vo­lun­teer­ing makes a big­ger dif­fer­ence. Obama star­ted out, after all, as a com­munity or­gan­izer.

Peter Bell contributed to this article.
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