Politics & Policy

No Small Oversight

It is a mistake to overlook small-business owners.

In the heat of the electoral season, politicos love to hunt for exotic voting segments with colorful names that they can use to explain an entire campaign cycle. We’ve heard of “NASCAR Dads,” “K-Mart Republicans,” and of course, “Soccer Moms.” It can get a little tiresome.

But there is a serious side to it. Ever since the rise of micro-targeting and the release of Doug Schoen’s The Power of the Vote and Mark Penn’s Microtrends, pollsters and politicos have been paying closer attention to small population groups that, when amassed, can add up to big change.

One way to look at population voting patterns is through exits polls. If you’re a political junkie, you’ve probably noticed that the electorate in this year’s primaries has been sliced and diced by gender, age, ethnicity, region, church attendance, education, income, and even sexual preference (asked of those participating in the California Democratic primary). This data is a treasure trove for researchers and political professionals.

An interesting bit of exit-poll data is the reported voting behavior of well-educated, middle- to upper-income white Democrats. Much has been made of Obama’s support in the African-American community, but well-educated white Democrats are key to his coalition. Consider Obama’s narrow primary win in Missouri: he split non-college-educated primary voters but won handily among those with a college degree — 65 percent to Hillary’s 31 percent. He also won 65 percent to 34 percent among voters making over $100,000. Combine this with his 84 percent among black primary voters, and his coalitional footprint is clear.

As valuable as this exit poll data continues to be, one thing missing is information on the voting behavior of the small-business sector. I’ve yet to see an exit poll that asks respondents if they own or work for a small business. This is a big mistake.

Small businesses are the job generators in America today. As Glenn Reynolds notes in An Army of Davids, small businesses — particularly of the SOHO (Single Operator Home Office) variety — are the future, not the past.

National survey research that I conducted on Super Tuesday for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) shows that small-business owners account for approximately 10.7 percent of all registered voters nationally, and when you include employees, the small-business sector swells to 31.8 percent of the electorate. In fact, small-business owners alone make up roughly the same percentage voters as union voters (11.9 percent). We hear quite a bit about the voting habits of unionized labor from political reporters (as we should), but we don’t hear much about the voting habits and opinions of the small-business sector.

The NFIB also commissioned survey research nationally and among primary voters in California, Missouri, Arizona and Georgia to (1) learn what role small business plays in primary elections, and (2) better understand their thoughts on health-care reform — a critical issue for small businesses generally and the NFIB’s membership in particular.

Here’s what the NFIB’s post-election research found. On Super Tuesday the small-business voting segment was as large or larger than many voting segments traditionally covered by the media. And it was a large segment in both the Republican AND Democratic primaries.

Democratic Primaries:

* In California’s Democratic primary, small-business employers and employees was a larger segment than union voters, 28 percent to 20 percent.

* In Missouri, small-business voters outnumbered union voters 28 percent to 15 percent.

* Small-business voters in high-growth Arizona outnumbered union voters there by a three-to-one margin, 31 percent to 10 percent.

* In Missouri and Arizona, the number of small-business owners was comparable to the number of union voters: a full 10 percent of Arizona Democratic primary voters own a business, the same percentage as union-member Democratic voters in the state; while in Missouri, 14 percent of Democratic primary voters own a small business, 15 percent are members of a union.

Republican Primaries:

* Small-business voters are even a bigger part of the GOP — roughly one third of the electorate in California (39 percent), Missouri (32 percent) and Georgia (38 percent).

* In the California Republican primary 23 percent of voters owned their own small business — nearly one in four.

Clearly, this is a sizeable voting segment — yet little reporting exists on what small-business owners and employees think about the election or how they voted in the primaries. It’s little wonder that 81 percent of small-business owners nationally say that the candidates have not addressed their concerns as much as they would like.

One of their principal concerns is health care. While 35 percent of all voters nationally report that their company has “had difficulty keeping up with the cost of health care,” the number shoots up to 51 percent among small-business owners. And while 28 percent of all U.S. voters report that their company has had “to make hard choices like layoffs, premium increases, or a reduction in health-care benefits,” the number jumps to nearly four in ten (38 percent) among small-business owners. Small businesses need health-care reform — done right.

It turns out, the small-business sector is a significant voting segment in both Republican and Democratic primaries. The group lacks a catchy name like “NASCAR Dad” or “Soccer Mom” — and I’m not about to give it one — but my hunch as a researcher is that the group has a distinct psychographic profile that pollsters and campaign staff from both parties should examine closely.

With the Obama and Clinton camp grappling for any advantage they can find, small-business Democrats are as worthy as any other voter segment to micro-target. With most surveys showing a tight race between McCain and either Democratic opponent, team McCain may want to look closely at how this voting bloc can be mobilized.

After all, these folks really are the true independents — having gone their own way to start their own businesses. And the next general election may very well hang on their decisions in the voting booth.

Robert Moran is senior vice president at StrategyOne and an NRO contributor.

 

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