Affluent investors looking for market cues to invest more toward their retirement this year are most watching stock market volatility and improvement in the job market, according to preliminary results from a Merrill Lynch semiannual survey.

The results are based on a national phone survey of 1,000 investors with $250,000 or more in investable assets. The full survey, titled Merrill Lynch Affluent Insights, is scheduled to be released in February. The initial findings that were released this week point to investors’ concerns heading into 2012.

In order to start saving more and increase retirement contributions, 38% of those affluent investors said they want to see less market volatility and 37% said an improved job market. That was followed by 32% who said international economic stability; 31% who said change in U.S. political leadership; 31% who said more government encouragement, including higher 401(k) contribution limits and tax incentives; and 22% who want more employer participation including 401(k) matches.

Those hopes come as the affluent investors surveyed said they are also planning to continue to cut down on their overall debt. While 32% said they paid down their debt in 2011, 36% plan to reduce their debt this year.

Heading toward the presidential election in November, the affluent investors surveyed also ranked political issues as a top concern. Seventy-three percent of the investors surveyed said they are highly concerned about the election.

Among the issues most important to those affluent investors include rising health care costs, with 79% of respondents; the national deficit, 76%; high unemployment, 73%; and possible tax hikes, 65%.

“Weary from a decade of lower equity returns and ongoing concerns about capital preservation, investors are rightfully concerned about how political actions in the U.S. and around the world in 2012 may directly impact their portfolio as well as their current and future incomes,” Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management Chief Investment Officer Lisa Shalett said in a statement.

Other top concerns among investors included the future of Social Security, with 68% of respondents, and keeping existing tax benefits of retirement savings plans, with 62%.

Lorie Konish writes for On Wall Street.