Survey says! Small business owners weigh in on presidential election

choosing a small business president

Have you noticed how the NFL stretches out its preseason, regular season, post season, awards season, and draft season to keep professional football in the headlines all year long?

I think they got the idea from our political parties.

We had the primary season, now we’re in the convention season, and immediately after that comes the campaign season.

And the “polling season” is a year-round affair, which brings me to an interesting political poll recently conducted by Sage.

The company, which specializes in integrated accounting, payroll and payment systems, took the pulse of business owners to measure their views on the current political and governing environment and the candidates running for president.

The survey, conducted by Qualtrics and administered to 301 Sage customers across the United States in early June 2016, found that 49 percent of small and medium-sized business owners/founders were dissatisfied with the current political landscape. Words used to describe their feelings were “discouraged,” “disgusted,” “angry,” and “mistrustful.”

The same percentage, by the way, felt that the 2016 business outlook was the same as it was in 2015. And for 44 percent, that meant that they were not optimistic about the future. In other words, no progress has been made.

What issues are top of mind for small business owners? Here’s what they are concerned about:

  • Policy – 67 percent
  • Health care – 60 percent
  • Education – 55 percent

It’s interesting that “policy” tops the list. It’s a rather vague term that usually doesn’t get much attention. However, recent policy changes have pushed the topic into the small business headlines. This includes the recent Department of Labor policy change regarding exempt and nonexempt employees, which makes overtime pay mandatory for millions of additional employees. I’m also thinking of DOL changes to the “persuader rule,” which will seriously hamper small business owners’ ability to cope with the threat of unionization.

No matter where your political affiliation lies, you probably sense that the 2016 presidential election has more direct implications for small business than has been the case in previous election cycles. The recent policy changes coming out of the Obama administration may be part of the president’s plan to secure his legacy by making fundamental changes to the critical relationships between employers and employees.

For those who favor these changes, support for Hillary Clinton is the clear choice. For those opposed, support for Donald Trump – who has claimed the turf of ultimate outsider – is quite likely…and the Sage survey seems to support this.

Small business owners side with Trump on six out of 10 policy initiatives:

  • Decreasing regulation,
  • Reforming tax codes,
  • Handling the deficit,
  • Handling gun rights,
  • Reforming immigration, and
  • Providing access to capital.

I think many of the most important small business concerns – especially health care rules and DOL policy changes – fall into the category of “decreasing regulation.” What is interesting to me is the finding that immigration reform is important to small business owners. One might think that all business owners would want to continue the influx of less-skilled workers from Latin America into the U.S. to keep overall wages down. But apparently, that’s not the case.

Finally, the Sage survey included an interesting question. They asked if small business owners could draft a former president (living or not) to take the reins in 2016, who would it be. Here are the top vote getters:

  • Ronald Reagan – 28 percent
  • Bill Clinton – 15 percent
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy – 13 percent

I mentioned President Obama’s desire to create a legacy a moment ago. It’s something all U.S. presidents work hard to do, especially in their final days in office. A presidential legacy is a powerful thing and we see that reflected in the above rankings of former presidents.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb saying that none of the small business owners in the Sage survey owned their businesses during the JFK years, yet he still ranked third on the list. (Honestly, it was 27-plus years ago when Reagan was in office. I suspect many in the survey weren’t in the workforce then, as well.)

This shows us the importance of a presidential legacy, yet the real question to consider now is this: Who ­ between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – will create a legacy that would put his or her name at the top of that list when future small business owners are surveyed about the best president for small business health?