Survey Says: Small Business Owners are Undecided in 2016 Presidential Race

Guidant Financial recently partnered with MyCorporation to conduct a survey of over 1,000 small business owners on the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump fared well with entrepreneurs, many of whom feel his resume boasts the most business experience. The survey also showed that a significant number of respondents remain undecided, presenting an opportunity for his opponent, Hillary Clinton, to use her robust political experience to gain the confidence of almost 28 million small business owners. Given the exceptionally high rate of voter participation among small business-people and their engagement in the U.S. economy, this group of voters will have a titanic influence on America’s political future. Here’s our breakdown of the survey and how Clinton and Trump can address the concerns of small business.

Main Street’s vote

Our survey, which took place in early May focused on respondents’ attitudes towards the then-candidates in the Republican and Democratic parties (Ted Cruz and John Kasich subsequently ended their campaigns shortly after the survey’s completion). It also plumbed the issues that concern small business owners the most in 2016. Small businesses employ about 56.8 million people in the U.S., or about half the country’s private workforce, and thus their decisions and their economic well-being impact the fortunes of the nation as a whole.

The survey found that an astonishing 94.35 percent of respondents intended to vote in November. Only 1.11 percent of those surveyed weren’t planning to cast a ballot, and another 4.54 had not yet decided whether to vote. Considering that only 53.6 percent of U.S. voters turned out in 2012, far lower than most developed countries, the political clout of these Main Street voters is not to be underestimated.

Faithful party goers

The entrepreneurs surveyed overwhelmingly chose Trump as the candidate who best addressed the needs of small business owners, at 44.38 percent (followed by Kasich at 16.78 percent and Hillary Clinton at 16.39 percent). Similarly, 43.58 percent also picked Trump as their top choice for president if the election were held today, versus 19.11 percent for Clinton and 13.63 percent for Cruz. Many cited Trump’s history in business as the reason for their support.

The surveyed business owners chose Clinton as the worst choice for president (36.95 percent), followed by Bernie Sanders at 26.09. However, Trump came in third in this same category, at 23.74 percent—indicative, perhaps, of the polarization in our current political climate.

However, opinions on the candidates followed clear partisan lines. Of the self-identified Democrats surveyed, Clinton enjoyed solid support, as well as a distinct advantage over Sanders, her then-rival for the Democratic nomination: A full 52.24 percent found that Clinton best addressed the needs of small business (versus 25.87 percent for Sanders), and 59.22 percent said she would be their top choice for president today (compared to 26.82 percent for Sanders).

The Independent, the undecided

Only 20.67 of participants self-identified as Democrats, and 50.50 percent as Republicans. That left 28.83 percent who identified themselves as independent or unenrolled. Compared to registered members of the major two parties, a far larger proportion remained undecided: Only 40.52 percent knew who they’d vote for at the time of the survey, versus 57.82 of Republicans and 64.25 percent of Democrats.

Let’s talk economy and taxes

Regardless of political affiliation, small business owners agreed on one thing: A resounding 87.20 percent of those surveyed felt that the presidential hopefuls hadn’t focused enough on small business in their campaigns. Moreover, business owners shared a consensus on major issues. Across party lines, the top three issues that entrepreneurs wanted candidates to focus on were small business, the economy and tax policy. When choosing presidential candidates, participants all considered the economy most important (a solid 62.97 percent overall), followed by tax policy (44.69 percent).

The participants concurred that strengthening the economy would best support their businesses, and tax hikes would hurt them the most. However, the survey found that opinions diverged along party lines thereafter. Democrats thought better access to capital would help them and outsourcing jobs would hurt them whereas Republicans, Independents and the unenrolled wanted tax cuts but feared minimum wage increases.

How do you speak small businessperson?

Only Hillary Clinton – herself an entrepreneur’s daughter – has made small business a specific campaign issue, notably proposing improvements to access to capital (popular with Democrats); reduced red tape for companies and targeted tax relief for Main Street businesses. She also campaigns toward the White House alongside a popular ally who’s familiar with building a strong economy.

However, the battle for the small business vote will likely boil down to competing visions of how to stimulate the economy and foster job growth more generally.

Trump and Clinton both criticize Wall Street and American corporations that send profits and jobs overseas while offering different solutions to boost employment and manufacturing. Trump wants to encourage companies to bring jobs back to the U.S. by lowering corporate taxes, extending a one-time 10 percent corporate tax rate for companies to repatriate overseas funds and also by imposing an increased tariff tax of 35 percent on goods produced abroad by American companies. Clinton plans to provide tax relief to families, close corporate loopholes and invest $275 billion in infrastructure over five years and fostering clean energy and scientific research.

To charm small business owners, Clinton and Trump must make a compelling argument that their proposals will yield results. Since Clinton supports a $12 minimum wage per hour with stronger overtime rules. At the time of the survey, it was thought that Trump would have fewer hurdles in convincing undecided entrepreneurs who oppose such increases – he’s since adjusted his views on the subject of minimum wage. Trump also may face an uphill battle with women and minority voters, specifically on subjects of particular interest to those subgroups, such as health care, since he intends to repeal Affordable Care.

Small business, big vote

With so many undecided entrepreneurs who nonetheless plan to vote in November, it’s clear that the small business vote remains up for grabs. Ultimately, it seems entrepreneurs will support the candidate that not only puts forth the most compelling economic platform but also demonstrates the ability to follow through. It’s high time that the candidates address the concerns of small business owners, and the 2016 presidential hopefuls might just find our survey excellent food for thought.

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