Small business confidence in the UShas fallen to an all-time low after the election of Joseph Biden, according to the Q4 CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey. With a confidence index reading of 48, Main Street’s outlook is now below where it was during the second quarter of this year (49), when lockdowns across the nation were increasing amid the first wave of Covid-19. That Q2 number had been the all-time low previous to the just-completed survey, conducted November 10 to November 17 among more than 2,200 small business owners nationally, using the SurveyMonkey platform.
Since CNBC began conducting the survey in 2017, the confidence index reached as high as 62, and had never dipped below the mark of 50 until 2020. While another surge in coronavirus cases continues to hit Main Streets across the nation, and a lack of progress on stimulus talks in Washington, D.C. exacerbates the issues faced by small business owners, key questions in the confidence index relate to the Main Street outlook on taxes and regulation, and the responses from small business owners are skewed heavily by their political leanings — the small business demographic overall has a conservative skew. According to SurveyMonkey, approximately 60% of small business owners identify as Republicans.
Fifty-three percent of small business owners said they expect tax policy to have a negative impact on their business in the next 12 months, while 49% said government regulation will have a negative impact. By party affiliation, the divide is stark. Among Republicans, 75% said tax policy will be a negative and 72% said regulations will be a negative. Those numbers drop to 15% (taxes) and 11% (regulations) among Democrats. These are the highest percentages recorded for the “negative impact” response in the four years of the survey.
“The immediate shift in forward-looking sentiment that small business owners reported following the election reveals how deeply politics has become embedded in the public’s assessment of the economy, and in particular how divided the country is,” said Laura Wronski, research science manager at SurveyMonkey. “We’ve seen evidence of that every quarter, with Republican small business owners consistently reporting a higher degree of confidence than Democrats, but the election of Joe Biden is the first opportunity we’ve had to see whether that would flip if presidential power changed parties — and it did dramatically.”
Among Republican respondents, the small business confidence index score fell from 57 in the third quarter to 42; among Democrats, confidence jumped from 46 to 58. The lowest previous confidence reading from Republican business owners was in Q2 2020, at 54.
Overall, the survey finds 34% of small business owners saying Joe Biden will be good for small business, while 55% say he will be bad for small business. By party, 89% of Republican small business owners say Biden will be bad for business, while 86% of Democrats say he will be good for Main Street.
Wronski noted that part of the small business confidence being measured every quarter is owners’ assessments of what things will look like a year from now based on policy changes made at the federal level, and those questions are subject to a lot of uncertainty in any immediate post-election period, before the new administration takes power and before their policy agenda is fully fleshed out. “We don’t yet know how Biden will work with Republican leaders to carry out his agenda, and we don’t even know what his specific policy proposals will be yet, so we’re really in wait-and-see mode, and that lack of certainty is always a tricky situation for small business owners to operate in,” she said.