Most Believe Politicians Fall Short in Promoting the Greater Good

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Most Believe Politicians Fall Short in Promoting the Greater Good

Second-Ever Tiller Social Action Survey
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Politicians + Public Service = Oxymoron New Tiller survey results say


Obama’s Efforts Notwithstanding, Most Believe Politicians Come Up Short Good Works-wise:

  • 75% Aware of Obama’s Call for Volunteerism; 65% It as Politically Motivated

  • 83% Believe Average Citizens Care More About the Country than Politicians

  • 8 in 10 Say Political Discourse Obscures What’s Good for the Country

  • Only 16% Think Politicians Set a Good Example When it Comes to Public Service

Sacrifice: An Important American Value

  • More than Half Would Support Mandatory Military or Civil Service for 18 Year Olds;

  • 1 in 5 Would Pay 20% More in Taxes If It Meant Eliminating Poverty, Hunger in US

Thursday, December 17, 2009 - 8:00am

CAMPAIGN: 2009 Tiller Social Action Survey

CONTENT: Press Release

 (3BLMedia/theCSRfeed) New York, NY - DEC. 17, 2009 – Apparently a struggling economy and volatile stock market aren’t taking a toll on Americans’ inclination to help others – but a rancorous political climate may be. While an overwhelming percentage of Americans – 97% -- believe it’s at least somewhat important to contribute to the greater good, 79% believe the tone of the political discussion makes it hard to know what’s best for the country,  according to the results of the second Tiller Social Action Survey, released here today by Tiller, LLC, a leading advocacy marketing consultancy.

Encouragingly, the survey found that Americans’ charitable and civic taproot runs deep. Eighty percent of Americans who give to charity say they will donate as much if not more this year than in 2008, 59% of Americans perform a “random act of kindness” at least weekly, and 95% of us believe it’s critical to teach children the importance of giving back.

 “It’s been a challenging year for many Americans. Unemployment hit a 25-year high and the markets hit a 12-year low, but our desire to help others has never wavered,” said Tiller CEO Rob Densen.   “At the same time, politicians have done little to support our inclination to good works. As our survey shows, today’s fiercely partisan political discussion is seriously undercutting our sense of common purpose and shared humanity.” 

The 2009 Tiller Social Action Survey was designed to better understand Americans' attitudes and behaviors relative to civic and charitable activities. It was conducted via the Internet November 27 and December 2, 2009 by the national polling firm of Mathew Greenwald & Associates.  All respondents were at least 21 years of age. The margin of error for the 1,000 interviews is +/-3.1%. The original poll was conducted in October, 2006. 

Politicians + Public Service = Oxymoron

The survey evidenced a deep-seated distrust of politicians relative to public service.

Only 16% of respondents (5% strongly and 11% somewhat) believe “politicians set a good example for the rest of us when it comes to public service.” When asked whose intentions they are most skeptical of relative to good works, 59% of survey respondents cited politicians, followed by business leaders (9%), celebrities/entertainers (9%) and religious leaders (8%).

“It is hugely ironic that politicians – who are, at least nominally, public servants – should be viewed so skeptically,” Densen said. “Our surveys have consistently pointed to a profound public suspicion about politicians and their motivations. The notion of politicians as public servants is bordering on the oxymoronic.”

When asked what politicians should be doing to encourage more people to contribute to the greater good, “use their actions to set a good example” was hands down the top choice, cited by 75% of those surveyed.

Respondents thought the media could do more as well to encourage good works. Eighty-five percent of respondents (46% strongly and 39% somewhat) agreed that the media does not pay enough attention to peoples’ good deeds. 

“We call this ‘The New Tiger Woods Effect’ – the greater the transgressions and the larger the persona, the greater the public feeding frenzy,” Densen said.  “So much attention is paid to those who fall from great heights, but not nearly enough to those who would lift up the fallen. There’s nothing wrong with a good, salacious story every now and then, but a little more attention to good works couldn’t hurt.”   

Public Skepticism Extends to Obama’s Efforts to Encourage Volunteering

Three out of four Americans said they were aware of President Obama’s call for greater volunteerism, but 65% percent believe it was at least somewhat politically motivated.

Twenty-seven percent of Americans said Obama’s call to action made them more likely to volunteer and 14% said they had increased their volunteer activity since President Obama’s election. Among those who said they were more inclined to volunteer, 67% cited President Obama’s enthusiasm around the issue as a source of inspiration, 41% cited his history of community involvement, 37% cited a desire to answer a national call to action and 36% cited Michelle Obama’s active involvement in issues like kids and healthy eating. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the reaction to Obama’s call to action had a powerful break along party lines.  Among Americans who were aware of Obama’s call for volunteerism, 47% of those who identified themselves as Democrats said Obama’s call to action made them more likely to volunteer but only 3% percent of Republicans and 16% of Independents said so. Similarly, less than half (47%) of Democrats thought Obama’s call was at least somewhat politically motivated while 89% of Republicans and 73% of Independents thought so.

At the same time, Americans strongly believe that political discourse has obscured the common good and that politicians should be doing a much better job – individually and together – of encouraging and facilitating good works. 

“In terms of advancing the nation’s interests, the path hasn’t grown any clearer over the last three years,” said Tiller principal James Marren. “We think that reflects, in large part, the acrimony and extreme partisanship of today’s political discourse. The Republicans were in charge in 2006 and the Democrats are today. We’ve changed administrations, but the tone and tenor of the political debate remains the same – rancorous. ” 

Sacrifice: An Important American Value

Politicians take note: the survey also revealed an appetite for greater sacrifice.

When asked about a law that would require U.S. citizens to either enlist in the armed forces or spend a year participating in community service upon turning 18 or graduating high school, 53% (22% strongly and 31% somewhat) said they would favor such a proposal.

Asked whether they would pay 20% more every year in taxes if it meant that poverty and hunger could be eliminated in the U.S., 40% of respondents said no, but 35% said they were not sure, and 25% said yes.

The willingness to at least consider these sorts of ambitious proposals is consistent with the fact that 69% of respondents at least somewhat agreed with the statement that “Americans today should be asked to make greater sacrifices for the good of the country.”

Finally, the survey shows signs that social media will play an increasingly important role in spreading the word on charitable and volunteer opportunities.  Almost a quarter of Americans (23%) said they have learned about a cause, volunteer opportunity, or charity event through a social media tool such as Facebook or Twitter.  Social media are particularly critical for younger Americans.  Forty-seven percent of respondents ages 21 to 34 had used social media to learn more about a cause or charity versus only 6% of those 65+.

Tiller, LLC is one of the nation’s leading consultancies in the creation and implementation of advocacy marketing programs for major U.S. corporations. For more information on the 2009 Tiller Social Action Survey, a checklist of 12 random acts of kindness, and contact information for volunteer opportunities, please go to the Tiller website:  

Have some fresh, creative ideas for random acts of kindness? Please send them to We will post our favorites on our website.

Mathew Greenwald & Associates is a premier full service market research firm headquartered in Washington, D.C.  

 For More Information:

Rob Densen/Jessica Malkin, Tiller, LLC

(212) 358-8515



Jessica Malkin
Tiller, LLC
Amanda Pullins
Tiller, LLC