A Primer on the 2018 Elections in 10 Charts
As Georgians head to the polls, we know the economy and health care are critical issues for voters on both sides of the aisle. Taking these two issues into account, we analyzed state and national data paired with survey data of small business owners to get a deeper understanding of how small business owners are approaching the upcoming election.
Current Trends in Georgia’s Economy
Georgia’s economy has climbed out of the hole it entered in the Great Recession and has since continued on a strong upward trajectory. The state GDP is now 34 percent bigger than in 2007 and unemployment in Georgia stands a 17-year low of 3.7 percent. And over the past twelve months, the state has added over 111,000 jobs, 54,000 more than the previous year. This reflects the national trend of steadily declining unemployment rates. The country is now at record low unemployment, at just 3.7 percent.
This recent overall growth has many, especially those in the small business community, feeling positive about the state’s economy. We discovered this by asking small business operators how they’re feeling about the state’s economy and the top policy issues they’re focused on this November. Through this survey of small business owners in Georgia that we ran over the past four months (n = 290, with a margin of error 5.8 percentage points), we heard bullish views on the state’s economy. Three-in-five respondents from Georgia told us that they expect business conditions in their community to be “a little” or “much better” in the coming three months, a full 12 percentage points higher than the national average. Small business owners in Georgia are also far more likely than their counterparts elsewhere to say that the economy there has improved.
Not all measures of the state’s economy are painting as rosy of a picture as unemployment and overall GDP growth. In fact, looking instead at real per capita GDP growth offers a less positive conclusion. The trend there shows that growth has plateaued since 2014. That’s because overall GDP in Georgia has grown an average of 4.86 percent per year since then and the state’s population has also grown by 3.4 percent, meaning that per capita GDP has moved from $43,467 in 2014 to $45,925 in 2017, a bump of only 5.65 percent in three years or 1.88 percent per year. That’s about 40 percent less than what’s considered the bar for a “good” number in the annual growth rate of real per capita GDP (3.2 percent). And, most alarmingly, GDP per capita in 2017 is actually less in real terms than it was in 2005 ($47,610 in 2009 dollars). This trajectory of GDP growth has held true on the national level as well, suggesting that the outcomes of Georgia’s elections are unlikely to stray from national trends.
Similarly, given the strength of the labor market in the state, we’d expect to see strong and sustained improvements in employee earnings. That was true for much of 2017, when wage gains in Georgia outpaced the country overall, but since June, the opposite has been true. In fact, despite all the jobs added over the past year, the average wage for private sector workers in the state has flatlined at just over $26.50, which is about where it stood this time last year and is roughly 50 cents less than the national average.
The other observable metric that depicts some remaining softness in Georgia’s economy is the weak levels of new business starts. Although there were more than 2,500 more firms started than firms that died in 2016 (the latest available year of data), that’s still only half of the amount of net business creation that the state had in 2005 and 2006, when the economy was 27 percent smaller in real terms. To be fair, though, declining entrepreneurship is not just an issue that’s affecting Georgia: business starts have slowed down nationwide.
A final factor to consider about how small business owners in Georgia are feeling about the state’s economy is that many of them feel like they’re not the state government’s priority. Seventy-seven percent say their government cares more about attracting and supporting new corporations than supporting local small businesses.
The Importance of Health Care to the Small Business Voter
The economy is unlikely to be the only or leading factor influencing how individuals vote. Nearly as many small business voters in Georgia cite health care as an issue that’s at the top of their priorities this year.
In Georgia, two-in-three small business owners report disapproving of President Trump’s handling of health care. That’s a bigger difference than on economic policy, where 54 percent disapprove and 46 percent approve of the President’s handling. Unsurprisingly, Republican voters largely approve of President Trump’s handling of both health care and the economy, while Democratic voters disapprove.
When it comes to health care, most Georgians (60%) are supportive of the Affordable Care Act, specifically, and its key provisions:
- 73 percent support the expansion of Medicaid in Georgia
- 65 percent support the rules that prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions
- 75 percent support making subsidies for health insurance available to low-income Americans
- 80 percent support allowing adults under 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan
- 63 percent oppose state legal efforts to invalidate the the pre-existing conditions in the ACA and 37 percent say they’d less likely to vote for a candidate that supports such a lawsuit, compared to only 22 percent who would be more likely
This data provides an important perspective on small business voters’ priorities for the upcoming election, as they have a personal and real-time pulse on what’s happening with Georgia’s economy and the core issues affecting working families.
These data were collected from government economic sources and via the Thumbtack Economic Sentiment Survey, which captures the attitudes and perspectives of thousands of business owners from across the country every month to gauge how they are feeling about the economy and their businesses. Now in its sixth year, this survey provides a unique vantage point on the economy, as respondents are largely mobile service professionals with five or fewer employees who operate across the United States. Because they are hard to reach, these professionals are frequently overlooked in other surveys of small businesses. Note: percentages for individual graphics may not round to 100 due to rounding.