Small Business Worried by Anti-Business Rhetoric on the Campaign Trail

When voting for the next president, it is not about immigration, climate change, or education. For small business owners, the economy and tax policies are among top issues in this election cycle, and a majority say their views are not being represented by the three major-party candidates on the campaign trail.

Results from the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index, conducted within the first two weeks of April, showed business owners maintain a cautious outlook on the economy and the year ahead.  The latest gauge of small business optimism from the National Federation of Independent Business dropped to a fresh two-year low in April as business owners remained pessimistic about the economy and political climate. Only 8% of survey respondents said the climate would support plans to expand business.

Mark Vitner, managing director and senior economist at Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), who tracks U.S. and regional trends, said the reason for so much pessimism is likely because of the rise of so-called insurgent candidates in the 2016 presidential race.

“The focus of their campaigns have either been on anti-business or initiatives that have been focusing on income inequality, raising the minimum wage. There’s not been a lot of focus on tax issues, and that’s what matters most to business,” he explained.

To that point, a staggering number of small business owners are paying close attention to headlines that come out of the campaign trail. According to the survey data, 87% of respondents said they were following the election closely or somewhat closely, while a whopping 92% of small business owners said they plan to vote in the November election, though the data didn’t show which candidate they plan to support.

Taxes, economic policies, and health care are among the biggest issues to survey respondents as they look to cast their ballots in November. Vitner said when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, the cost to small businesses to provide coverage has consumed a lot of spending that businesses otherwise might have used toward increasing compensation for their employees.

“They’d like to increase worker pay, but because health care costs are rising, they don’t have a lot left for wage and salary gains. Another big issue is potential changes to the tax code, and I think we haven’t really heard that much [from the candidates],” Vitner said.

For Zane Tankel, CEO of Apple-Metro, regulations on businesses is high on his list of concerns. He said while it’s important to maintain operating guidelines, he believes over the last several years, the number of regulations on small businesses have become too unwieldy and have actually taken more from business than they’ve helped contribute.

“We have hired thousands of employees and I can’t tell you how many additional employees we’ve hired to do the administrative and follow up. On health care, we hire an outside company and we record as we tell everybody about all their options so that someone doesn’t make the claim that we didn’t bring those up,” he explained.

Butch Yamali, CEO of Dover Catering, weighed in on the impact of regulation, saying his business has had to hire experts to sit down to explain how various new regulations will impact the business, and map out plans for how to move forward.

Yamali said in this race, Republican candidate Donald Trump is his choice for the next president of the United States.

“As long as he stays strong on his issue and cuts some of this stuff out,” he said. “He has a big workforce of his own, so he’s going to do what’s best for Donald, which would also probably be good for us, too.”