09/27/2012 09:37 am ET Updated Nov 27, 2012

Message to Romney/Ryan: "Don't Take Small Business for Granted"

As the presidential campaign continues, a new poll suggests that the Romney campaign should not assume small business owners are monolithic in their support for the campaign.

The Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at George Washington University and conducted a survey on how small business view the upcoming election. Over 6,000 small business owners nationwide participated in the survey. The top line results include:

  • Forty percent of all small business owners nationwide rated the economy and jobs as the most important factor in choosing a president. Ethics, honesty, and corruption in government is the second-most important factor for small businesses.
  • The federal budget deficit does not even break the top five most important issues for small businesses, and taxes are the second-least important issue to small businesses in this election -- outranking only foreign policy and national security issues, which came in last. Even among economic issues, tax policy was the top concern for less than 6 percent of small businesses.
  • Small businesses rate gas and fuel costs as the single most burdensome cost to their businesses -- more burdensome than even personal income taxes or health care costs.
  • The policy most commonly mentioned by small businesses that would help their business is improved access to loans.
  • Small businesses are largely ambivalent about President Obama's health care policy. Only one in five small businesses say that President Obama's health care policy helps their business, and two in five say that the policy does not help their business. The remainder is neutral on the issue.
  • Republican business owners are significantly more generous to Obama than Democratic business owners are to Romney -- whereas only one in 20 Democratic entrepreneurs believe Romney would be the best choice for small business, more than one in 10 Republican entrepreneurs believe Obama would be the best choice.

Among swing states, New Hampshire voters were the most concerned about the economy and jobs, Wisconsin voters were disproportionately concerned about government corruption, and Iowans and Nevadans rated health care policy as their top economic concern more frequently than did small businesses in any other swing state.

Florida and Michigan small business owners were more concerned about the economy and jobs than those in any other large states.

Here are five Implications for the Romney/Ryan campaign:

1. You need a more concise message to America's entrepreneurs. Earlier in the year, the campaign released a 59-page plan with 72 ideas to jump start the economy. While thorough, the campaign must now focus on two or three central ideas that will create jobs. Focus is the most important issue until ballots are cast on election day. If the Romney campaign does not carry the small business community, President Obama will be re-elected.

2. Discussion of taxes and the deficit don't appear to move independent small business owners into your camp. While the Republican 'faithful' are anxious to hear about keeping taxes low and reducing the deficit, small business owners tell us that the central issue continues to be job creation and growth. Focusing on lower taxes and the deficit are not high priorities for them.

3. Relying on people knowing President Obama's record on small business gives the president an 'edge' on election day. Thirty-four percent of self-described Independent small business owners believe President Obama is more supportive of small business. Twenty-seven percent believe Governor Romney is more supportive. Thirty-nine percent are not sure who is more supportive. The Romney campaign must ensure their communication on the president's record is understood and gets through all the political clutter.

4. Send more time with entrepreneurs, less time with staged events which have less believability. While not surveyed in this study, small business people see right through the controlled crowds and campaign staff prepared statements and questions. Small business owners want authenticity and passion. I would suggest cancelling the planned media events which offer little and emphasize real conversations with and around small business operations. Have more listening and less speech making.

5. Talk about your specific, concise small business agenda during your economic debate with the president. The upcoming debate gives Governor Romney a chance to leverage his business experience and communicate real-life private sector work during the economic debate with the president. Talk straight to small business and you talk straight to America.

The full results can be seen here and include interactive data visualizations, dozens of quotes from small business owners nationwide, and demographic-by-demographic comparisons. The full methodology and analysis paper can also be found there.