The Economy

Shocker! Small-Business Owners Favor Obama

A new survey says small-business owners believe Romney might be less supportive than the President.
David RosenbaumSeptember 19, 2012

According to a new study conducted by The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, 39% of more than 6,000 small-business owners surveyed said President Obama is “more supportive of small business” versus the 31% who believed that of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Further, a plurality of self-identified independent voters (34%) gave their support to Obama, while 27% said they were for Romney and 39% remained “unsure.”

“I was surprised,” admits David Rehr, a lead researcher on the study and an adjunct professor at GWU. Rehr, like many others, believed that small-business owners were more ideologically in sync with the GOP, and that Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comment, which was interpreted as dismissive of small-business owners and used as a rallying cry at the Republican Convention, would resonate strongly with the small-business community. But Rehr now believes that small-business owners look at the world through “practical and pragmatic” lenses. “They don’t have time to be ideological,” he says.

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The majority of the businesses surveyed, Rehr says, have between one and five workers (as do 91% of all small businesses, according to U.S. Census data). The people who run them, suggests Rehr, “are so busy, working around the clock,” that for them “long term is six months from now.” And given the recent relentlessly poor economic news, “they’re thinking about keeping positive cash flow, or getting more customers, or turning debt around. They can’t afford to be ideological. They’re looking for what’s going to jump-start them now.”

The survey reports that the single most important issue for business owners is the economy and job creation (40%), followed by “ethics/honesty/corruption in government,” which Rehr sees as a product of a generally cynical view of government held broadly across the American electorate. “Look at the polling,” he says. “Everyone’s confidence in government has decreased.”

When the small-business owners were asked what costs were most burdensome to them, gas and fuel expenses led everything else, trailed by self-employment taxes, personal income taxes, and health-care costs.

Again, Rehr explains this by pointing to the immediate demands of running a small business. “Fuel costs are more burdensome than health-care costs or taxes because [the small-business owner] is at the gas pump every day, or every other day.

“And,” he continues, “they think about health-care costs differently. Their reality is, it’s Wednesday, my bill is due Friday. What’s going to happen a month from now to improve my cash flow? They’re not thinking about what’s going to happen in two years.”

Given the immediacy of the small-business owners’ concerns, Rehr, who was formerly president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Broadcasters, in which role he spent a lot of time lobbying and testifying before Congress, advises the Romney/Ryan campaign to focus on “one or two things” they’ll do to help small businesses. “If Romney can say here are one or two things I’ll do to create jobs, here are one or two things I’ll do to clean up government,” Rehr believes his message would have a better chance of getting through.

“Right now,” says Rehr, “the small-business owner is just getting snippets of politics. They’re not hearing or getting or understanding the Ryan/Romney message.”