NFIB's Danner: Time for 2016 Candidates to Focus on Small Business Issues

Date: February 02, 2016 Last Edit: February 04, 2016

Iowa voters on Monday defied the polls and scrambled, at least for a week, the race for president. With a strong turnout among evangelical voters, an important force in Iowa, Texas Senator Ted Cruz nudged past businessman Donald Trump, who until last night had dominated the Republican field. Perhaps more surprising was the last-minute surge by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who broke out of the second-tier for a very close third-place finish.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, came within a whisker of beating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a race that she was expected to win easily. While Clinton technically won the night by the barest of margins, the outcome is perceived by most observers as a stinging blow to the once fearsome Clinton political machine.

The campaigns now head to New Hampshire next Tuesday, where polls show Trump and Sanders far ahead of their competition. But as Iowa voters demonstrated, that could change quickly. In a year that has confounded the pundits and the experts, it’s impossible to predict what will happen next. What seems certain is that voters on both sides are testing party leaders as never before.

While the 2016 race offers lots of drama, so far it lacks a serious focus on small business issues. That’s unfortunate, as economic issues appear to be motivating voters in both parties this year. Small business owners are deeply unhappy as well. Roughly two thirds, according to our research, believe that the country is on the wrong track. Strong majorities cite taxes and regulations as major problems. Our monthly Small Business Optimism Index has been flat for years, and the most recent data finds a negative outlook for the next six months. The Affordable Care Act remains a drain on small business, having increased the cost of insurance as well as the cost of labor.

All of that should be important to the candidates and the news outlets that cover them. Small business accounts for half the economy, half of all the jobs, and they pay most of the taxes. In Iowa, for example, according to the SBA, 97.1 percent of all employers are small businesses. They employ almost 700,000 Iowans. In New Hampshire, small business represents 95.8 percent of all employers who support half the state’s private-sector workforce. You’ll find similar figures in South Carolina, where the candidates are headed after New Hampshire. In fact, every stop on the campaign trail is predominantly a small business economy. More jobs, higher wages and better benefits aren’t possible for Americans anywhere without a stronger, more prosperous small business sector.

Hopefully the focus will shift to the issues that matter most as the field narrows and the parties advance toward their respective conventions. Among those issues must be business tax fairness, excessive regulation, healthcare and labor rules that discourage hiring, and the central importance of small business to the U.S. economy and American families.

Dan Danner

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