(Reuters) - Executives of U.S. small businesses have less confidence in the 2013 economic outlook than they did three months ago, weighed by uncertainty over the November elections and the so-called fiscal cliff, a new survey showed on Wednesday.

Vistage International, a business advisory firm, said its Vistage Confidence Index dropped to 89.0 for the July to September period, down from 92.8 during the second quarter and 105.1 in the first quarter.

The index, which stood 83.5 in the third quarter of 2011, shows the fears of the "fiscal cliff," the across-the-board spending cuts and tax raises set to take effect in the new year if Washington does not take action.

Just over half of the 1,504 CEOs surveyed said they are taking the threat of the fiscal cliff "very seriously," with another 593 taking it "somewhat seriously," Vistage said.

And 57 percent of the respondents said an expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for those making over $250,000 per year would affect them and their business.

Over four-fifths of the executives said the $16 trillion debt burden the U.S. carries is affecting their business growth.

MORE OF THE SAME FOR 2013

Half of the CEOs said economic conditions are largely unchanged since a year ago, and 45 percent expect next year to be about the same. Still, half the executives said they expected to hire new employees over the next 12 months. Only 9 percent anticipated layoffs, and two-thirds saw a likely increase in their firms' revenues.

CEOs said economic uncertainty is the most significant business issue, with 30 percent saying it was a major concern. Another 17 percent pointed to political uncertainty, and 17 percent more said that hiring, training, and retraining staff was their biggest burden.

Politics and the overall economy overshadowed the importance of credit for the executives. Only 6 percent of those surveyed said paying or accessing credit was the biggest challenge to their business.

Most firms did not expect to increase prices, and retaining and attracting new customers was the day-to-day challenge reported by the most executives.

The survey included responses from chief executives at 1,504 small and medium-sized businesses and has a margin of error of 1.6 percentage points.

Thomson Reuters is a shareholder in Vistage.

(Reporting by Atossa Araxia Abrahamian; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Apple Maps

    Apple CEO <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/28/tim-cook-apology-apple-maps_n_1922378.html">Tim Cook issued an apology</a> Friday for the company's new Maps app. Cook directed users to other map apps in the Apple store or websites like Google or Nokia until Apple's version is fixed.

  • Bank Of America Debit Card Fee

    Bank of America announced last year that it was planning to charge customers a $5 fee to use their debit cards. After an intense customer backlash, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/01/bank-of-america-debit-card-fee_n_1069425.html">company dropped the plan</a>.

  • New Coke

    In 1985 <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7209828/ns/us_news/t/it-seemed-good-idea-time/#.UGXCa_mfHll">Coca-Cola decided to mess</a> with its iconic product, according to NBCNews.com. The result: Epic failure. With customers comparing the change to trampling the American flag, the company pulled the product after just a few months.

  • Crystal Pepsi

    Pepsi <a href="http://investorplace.com/2011/02/loud-sun-chips-pepsi-branding-disaster-failure/">launched a clear version</a> of its cola drink in 1993, but the product didn't last long. The company pulled it from the shelves in 1994, according to InvestorPlace.com.

  • Lawn Darts

    Lawn darts, everyone's favorite 1980s backyard game, turned out to be pretty dangerous. The Consumer Product Safety Commission <a href="http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/toys/4347051#slide-1">recalled the toys in December 1988</a> after many were injured and three people died sending the steel darts through the air, according to Popular Mechanics.

  • Ford Edsel

    In 1957, Ford launched the Edsel, a car the company billed as hot and revolutionary, according to the <em>Washington Post</em>. Problem: <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/03/AR2007090301419.html">It turned out to be sort of "blah."</a> By the time the company pulled the car in 1959, it had lost about $250 million.

  • Window's Vista

    When it debuted in January, 2007, Microsoft's newest operating system was <a href="http://www.spike.com/articles/n2yhee/the-top-10-epic-fails-in-product-launch-history?page=2">slammed by consumers</a>. As a result, businesses and personal computer users were slow to adopt it, according to Spike.

  • The Arch Deluxe

    McDonald's launched a luxury burger geared towards the adult set in 1996 with a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/19/magazine/steal-this-burger.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm">$100 million advertising campaign</a>, according to <em>The New York Times</em>. But the mature hamburger was ultimately a flop.

  • Apple Newton

    In 1993, Apple <a href="http://www.dailyfinance.com/photos/top-25-biggest-product-flops-of-all-time/#photo-11">launched the PDA device, a precursor to the palm pilot</a>, according to DailyFinance, but it turned out to be a bust, thanks to its high price and bulkiness. The company pulled the Newton in 1998.

  • Sony Betamax

    Sony poured <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1989-09-28/business/fi-409_1_sony-corp">20 years of research into its Betamax</a> videocassette recorder, but was ultimately beat out by the competition, according to the <em>Los Angeles Times</em>. Matsushita developed the VHS system, which became more popular among companies making the devices -- and companies making films -- rendering the Betamax obsolete.

  • Qwickster

    In September of last year, Neflix announced that it would be separating its online streaming service from its DVD service and calling <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/30/tech-fails-2011_n_1173313.html">the DVD branch "Qwickster."</a> The proposal turned out to be such an epic fail that the company scrapped the experiment last November before it even launched.

  • Clairol's "Touch Of Yogurt" Shampoo

    When Clairol came out with its yogurt-based shampoo in 1979, they thought it would be a success, thanks to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/06/worst-product-launches-ever_n_1182219.html">widespread interest in the test marketing</a> phase. But it turned out to be a flop; customers apparently don't want to put food in their hair.

  • BlackBerry Playbook

    BlackBerry launched its Playbook without apps for email, contacts or any of the other things people use tablets for. The result: The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/30/tech-fails-2011_n_1173313.html#s577006&title=BlackBerry_PlayBook">company slashed prices</a> on the device as the holidays approached.

  • HD DVD

    Toshiba's HD DVD experiment ended up <a href="http://www.zdnet.com/blog/storage/hd-dvd-post-mortem-why-did-toshiba-fail/294">being trounced by Sony's</a> Blu-Ray player as studios and customers opted for the latter.

  • The Yugo

    The car deemed by many to be one of the worst vehicles ever exported to the U.S. was met with widespread criticism when it <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500395_162-4616249.html">landed on American shores in 1986</a>. Available for just $3,990, the car did terribly in crash tests, according to CBS News.

  • Nike Black And Tan Sneakers

    Nike launched a sneaker (not pictured) in the lead up to St. Patrick's Day that offended some Irish people. The shoe called "Black and Tan"<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/nike-black-and-tan_n_1344197.html"> shares its name</a> with a British paramilitary unit that attacked Irish civilians in the 1920s.