A Primer on the 2018 Elections in 10 Charts
As Tennesseans 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 Tennessee’s Economy
Tennessee’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 42.1 percent bigger than in 2007. The state has also grown its real GDP per capita by 1.4 percent over the last year, a hair faster than the nation as a whole, and now stands at $44,348. It has now outpaced the US overall on growth in real GDP per capita in six out of the past seven years.
Similarly, at 3.6 percent, unemployment in Tennessee stands near the all-time low it reached in September of 2017. Over the past 12 months, the state has added over 63,000 jobs, 29,000 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 strength in the labor market has also led to strong improvements in employee earnings in Tennessee. The opposite was true for the first part of 2018—private sector wages were essentially flat from January to March 2018 and up less than 2 percent year-over-year during that period. Since then, however, wages in the state have grown considerably. Today, private sector wages in the state stand at an average of $23.70, which is up 3.95 percent from this time last year, when they were $22.80. Despite this recent growth, though, the state’s average wage is about $3.50 / hour less than the national average.
Overall, this recent growth has many individuals, especially those in the small business community, feeling fairly 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 Tennessee that we ran over the past four months (n = 145, with a margin of error 8.1 percentage points), we heard bullish views on the state’s economy. 54 percent of respondents from Tennessee told us that they expect business conditions in their community to be “a little” or “much better” in the coming three months, six percentage points lower than the national average. Small business owners in Tennessee are also just as likely as their counterparts elsewhere to say that the economy there has improved over the past year.
Not all measures of the state’s economy are painting as rosy of a picture, though. Looking at the level of new business starts in the state shows some remaining softness in Tennessee’s economy. Although there were 685 more firms started than firms that died in 2016 (the latest available year of data), that’s still only about half of the amount of net business creation that the state had in 2006, when the state’s economy was 14 percent smaller in real terms. To be fair, though, declining entrepreneurship is not just an issue that’s affecting Tennessee—business starts have slowed down nationwide.
A final factor to consider about how small business owners in Tennessee are feeling about the state’s economy is that many of them feel like they’re not the state government’s priority. 82 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 Tennessee cite health care as an issue that’s at the top of their priorities this year.
In Tennessee, 59 percent of small business owners report disapproving of President Trump’s handling of health care. That’s a bigger difference than on economic policy, where the split between approval and disapproval of the president’s handling is almost even (46 percent approve while 54 percent approve). 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 Tennesseans are supportive of the Affordable Care Act and its key provisions:
- 80% support the expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee
- 64% support the rules that prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions
- 80% support making subsidies for health insurance available to low-income Americans
- 82% support allowing adults under 26 to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan
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 Tennessee’ 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.