There has been much talk in Washington lately about what small business wants, how small business thinks and what needs to be done to stimulate the one sector of the U.S. economy responsible for so much new job creation.
While Washington talked, we listened to the voices of small business as we got their assessment of how they view the economy and how to improve the business climate.
Indeed, the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows 84 percent of the public saying they have confidence in small business– indicating that small business is one of the few institutions in which virtually all Americans have confidence and to which they defer.
A majority of Americans are not optimistic right now, but small business owners provided an even grimmer assessment of the economy and their own business fortunes in a new national survey of small business owners conducted on behalf of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform.
In fact, in our survey, 78 percent of small business owners say that in the next year the national economy is likely to either remain stagnant or get worse. A substantial percentage are not sure if they are going to survive. Close to one-third of business owners, 32 percent, tell us they are not confident in the future of their own company.
Clearly, business owners are hurting. In focus group after focus group, the pain that small business owners face is all too clear.
“I don’t know if I’ll even be in business in four to five years,” one Florida business owner said last month during a focus groups – reflecting as much uncertainty as fear.
Business owners are skeptical of “help” from Washington. In fact, our research indicates that business thinks Washington is so far removed from their real-world concerns that they won’t know how to be of any practical assistance.
By an eight-to-one margin, small business owners say that Washington’s policies and regulations these days are more likely to hurt than help. This view is consistent across-the-board. Democrats, independents, women and minority small business owners all agree with this assessment of Congress.
Similarly, when asked whether government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals, or whether government should do more to help solve problems, by two-to-one, business said government is trying to do too many things better left to the private sector rather than too few things.
The public has been divided on this issue recently – but small business owners are clear.
“I have such a major distrust for government at this point,” lamented one small business owner in Florida. “I never was this skeptical in my whole life…There’s no accountability. They just say it to get elected and then they forget about it.”
One area where small business owners do see a role for Washington to help reduce the burden on businesses like theirs is in litigation reform. They see litigation increasing and contributing to their economic problems. For example, 71 percent say that a lawsuit or the potential for a lawsuit translates to increased costs that make businesses like theirs hold back on hiring.
There is near unanimity that “with the economy like it is, it would be more difficult for my company to absorb the additional costs, time and other issues related to a lawsuit” (92 percent agree, 73 percent strongly). These views cut across party lines among this audience, as more than 80 percent of Democrats, Republicans and independents share this sentiment.
Small business owners are mad at everyone -- regardless of party. This frustration at regulations, lawsuits and the economy could find an outlet this November.
By two-to-one, business owners say that it’s time to give a new person a chance in their congressional district, rather than that their own member of Congress deserves re-election --63 percent and 30percent, respectively. Fully 56 percent say that they would vote to replace every single member of Congress if given the opportunity.
It is clear that small businesses are fed up. With their perception of the economy so dire, and their own position so perilous, any steps that would help them grow and develop could send an otherwise teetering economy in the decidedly wrong direction.
Doug Schoen, a Democrat pollster, is a former advisor to President Bill Clinton, regular contributor to Fox News Channel and author of “Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System.”