In August, we released the results of our 2015 Small Business Friendliness Survey.
In addition to grading 36 states and 95 cities on their friendliness for small business and examining what influences perceptions of friendliness, we also asked small business owners which issues they want their local and federal policymakers to prioritize. By asking them directly what their priorities were, we hoped to learn what is most important to these business owners as voters.
Candidates for office never appear shy about embracing the small business voting bloc on the campaign trail. From appearances at local ice cream shops to extolling the virtues of pursuing the American dream, small business issues are never far from their minds. So by asking small business owners what they care about most, we hope to offer a new perspective that may be of use when the politicking turns to policymaking.
While there isn’t uniform consensus over which single issue should be the top priority of policymakers, three issues rise to the top of the pack. In order of importance, they are unemployment and the job market, budget deficit and spending, and health care costs.
We also looked at how self-described liberals or self-described conservatives answered this question. The only differences between these two groups is the order: liberals are more likely to say health care comes before the budget; while for conservatives the budget is the top priority. In both groups, though, these three issues outweigh other potential concerns, like taxes, inflation, or the housing market.
This pattern continues when looking at differences across states. In 25 states, unemployment and the job market was ranked highest, in 12 states the budget deficit was the number one issue, and in ten states health care costs rose to the top. The outliers here perhaps aren’t too surprising: Alaska, with its oil-driven economy is predominantly concerned about gas prices; Hawaii is worried about its infamous lack of affordable housing; and two states with younger survey respondents, North Dakota and Vermont, are most interested in student debt.
These state-specific results offer more evidence that policy concerns are not being primarily driven by partisan differences. We’re able to determine this by constructing a Thumbtack Political Index that assigns a score to each of the 50 states based on the distribution of the political leanings of survey respondents in that state. The state with the most liberal respondents on average was assigned a score of -100 and the states with the most conservative base a score of +100. Those with scores closer to 0, like Florida and Kentucky, have among the most moderate small business owner-operators.
Highlighting this lack of a noticeable pattern between a state’s partisanship and primary economic policy concern, in California, a state with a relatively high level of liberal small business owners, was the budget; while in South Carolina and Texas, two states with more conservative small business owners, the biggest issues are unemployment and the job market and health care costs, respectively. As a floor installer in Austin put it, “federally and on the state level, policymakers could do much more to support small businesses especially where health care is concerned.”
You can explore the full set of state-based results in the interactive map below:
Primary Economic Policy Concern By State