Small Businesses Vote Both Ways

The Republican and Democratic National Conventions both featured messages directed at small-business owners in an attempt to draw in the vote and each had a unique approach; however, …

The Republican and Democratic National Conventions both featured messages directed at small-business owners in an attempt to draw in the vote and each had a unique approach; however, experts say a look at voting statistics shows that neither side has figured out how to capture the majority. Many like to paint a picture of small business against big government, but there a more than enough stories of small businesses succeeding because of government to show it’s not so black and white. The same goes for organizations that crop up supporting government initiatives while others deride them. In the end, it will always be true that the government cannot please all small businesses all the time. For more on this continue reading the following article from TheStreet.

For U.S. politicians, aligning themselves with "small business" is a sure winner. That’s why pitches to small-business owners cropped up again and again at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions: Entrepreneurs represent the American ideal of bold self-reliance and the key to reducing unemployment.  

In a head-to-head matchup, it’s clear the Republican Convention hit harder on small-business issues. Organizers devoted an entire day to the theme "We Built It" and promoted the party’s pro-business platform (lower taxes, less regulation). Business-creation stories appeared in almost every high-profile speech, from Ann Romney’s reminiscences of her husband’s early days at Bain Capital to Paul Ryan praising his mother for going back to school and starting her own company after his father’s death.  

Republicans can point to plenty of specifics why small-business owners should vote for them, just as Democrats can insist they take the side of the "little guy" competing against large corporations. But is either party really "the" party of small business? Convention speeches favor oversimplification and grand promises; in reality, the experience of American entrepreneurs is more complicated than red or blue.  

There’s no question it’s been a winning strategy for politicians to pit small businesses against the government (whether that be federal regulators, the IRS or President Barack Obama himself). But the experience of one speaker at the Republican Convention showed the divisions are not always so stark.  

Sher Valenzuela, a candidate for lieutenant governor of Delaware, is also the co-founder of a successful industrial upholstery business. In her speech before the convention, she referred to the government’s "assault" on free enterprise, lamenting regulations that stifle growth.  

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Critics quickly struck back, pointing out that her company, First State Manufacturing, grew in part thanks to loans backed by the (government-funded) Small Business Administration and earned millions from Department of Defense contracts. Valenzuela and her co-founders were even awarded Delaware’s "2012 Small Business Person of the Year" by the SBA.  

It was easy to paint Valenzuela as a hypocrite, just as supporters found it easy to portray her as a straight-shooter speaking truth to power. Is it possible that the government vs. business storyline is both true and false? That the government as a customer can be a friend to small business, while the government as a regulator can be the enemy? In an ever-more partisan media landscape, it’s hard to find and acknowledge such nuances.  

Partisanship has also taken over business associations that, by definition, claim to represent all their members, regardless of party affiliation. The National Federation of Independent Business was founded as a nonprofit, nonpartisan group in 1943. Before the 2008 election, the group was urging reform of the health care system, since health care costs were one of its members’ chief concerns.  

But the group and many of the businesses it represents did not agree with the way the Obama administration tackled the problem, and the NFIB became the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare. The NFIB’s official response to the Supreme Court’s upholding of the law didn’t exactly come across as nonpartisan:  

"This case was about something bigger than health care policy, it was about preserving American liberty from the increasingly powerful hand of the federal government. Today marks a sad day in the history of America. With this decision, Americans have lost the right to be left alone, which Justice William O. Douglas once called ‘the beginning of all freedom.’"

The struggle over health care policy was so divisive among the small-business ranks that a new association sprang up in 2008, The Main Street Alliance, to speak for small-business owners who supported the health care overhaul.  

Similarly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents American business interests, has alienated some members with its positions on taxation, health care and environmental regulation (all of which align much more closely with Republican than Democratic positions). Some local chambers have even broken with the national group over policy differences.  

While the U.S. Chamber promotes opening up more federal land to oil and natural gas exploration, the offshoot Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy promotes the business opportunities in the clean energy sector — and now includes more than 200 chambers from 47 states.  

What all these developments prove is that there is no such thing as a monolithic "business" vote. Any political party that claims to stand up for small businesses will have to make their case to each individual owner, taking no vote for granted.

This article was republished with permission from TheStreet.


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