The start of the year is when many companies, organizations, families and people review their plans and their priorities. This process often includes deciding where they should focus their time, energy and effort, and how to judge, at year's end, whether they have succeeded.
Planning is most successful when it is built on the priorities, opportunities and problems that need to be addressed. If the biggest problem one has is health, then health should be the focus. If a person is in good health, but cannot meet his or her financial obligations, then the key priority would be finance -- making more money or cutting expenses, or both.
People's priorities and plans should be aligned so that they not only get what they want, but can use it in the way that they want. Otherwise, one could have more of what one already has (money), but die of a heart attack.
While the Democrats and Republicans have seemingly staked out their 2014 campaign lines -- income equality (Democrats) and opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Republicans) -- both parties might want to use the new year to reconsider their priorities and plans based on real information -- from Americans.
According to a Gallup poll release this Wednesday, the problems listed by Americans do not match with current party lines. (Telephone interviews conducted January 5-8, 1,018 adults, sampling error plus or minus 4 percentage points, 95 percent confidence level).
"Although none is dominant," Gallup noted, "the government, at 21 percent, leads the list of what Americans consider the most important problem facing the country. The economy closely follows at 18 percent, and then unemployment/jobs and health care, each at 16 percent. No other issue is mentioned by as much as 10 percent of the public; however, the federal budget deficit or debt comes close, at 8 percent."
The top problem listed by Americans -- government -- includes "dissatisfaction with government/Congress/politicians; Poor leadership/Corruption/Abuse of power."
While that figure is at roughly the same level as it was a year ago, it is down from a high of 33 percent in October, when the government shut down.
But the shutdown was not the only source of dissatisfaction with this government. Other areas include NSA surveillance methods, continuing revelations regarding Benghazi, the IRS's review of politically affiliated non-profits and the ineffective rollout of the Affordable Care Act.
How does this compare with Americans' key problems/priorities from last year? "Mentions of government are up slightly," according to Gallup. "Mentions of health care, on the other hand, have quadrupled -- from 4 percent in January 2013 to 16 percent today, likely related to highly visible problems with the rollout of the 2010 health care law." The issue was particularly important among women, 19 percent of whom cited health care as a top problem, up from 4 percent last year.
"At the same time, references to the federal deficit or debt have declined from 20 percent to 8 percent, while mentions of the economy in general have dipped from 21 percent to 18 percent, and mentions of unemployment/jobs are the same, at 16 percent."
Interestingly, the one item that specifically addresses the Democrats' focus on income equality, concern over the "gap between rich and poor," is at only 4 percent. However, it has quadrupled from 1 percent in July 2013. While this problem currently is low, it is being driven up by ongoing messaging from President Obama and coverage from the media.
Democrats are focusing on creating problems for them to then solve through campaign promises, rather than focus on current problems. This can be very effective if there are underlying problems that they can draw upon, amplify and harp on to stay on message.
After the planning process is complete, and priorities and plans are laid out, it comes down to execution and the ability to inspire and lead people. As important as it is to focus on problems identified by Americans, it is also important to remember that the message is only as good as the messenger and the delivery of the message. It's the attitude as well as the activity.
President Obama is very good at providing a delivery method that resonates with voters. Republicans need to take note that, while message is key, messenger and delivery are also important.
While politicians and parties need to address the problems and concerns of the American people, to win at the polls in November, they will have to do it in a way that engenders connection and understanding with the voters.