Presidential Frontrunners vs. Small Business Owners

American culture is hardwired to exalt the small business owner, and with good reason: small businesses added two-thirds of the three million new jobs created in 2014.

As a result, any cogent political philosophy will pay close attention to the needs of America’s legion of entrepreneurs and small business owners.

The 2016 race is no different. With clear frontrunners emerging on both sides of the aisle, one of the most important questions voters will be asking themselves come Election Day is: “Which of these politicians want to empower the small business owner, and which do not?”

We’re less than a year away from the election, so let’s see what we can find out about the positions these men and women have staked out for themselves.

The Republican Field

Exactly who counts as a “Republican frontrunner” is pretty unclear these days, because recent polls have proven Conservative voters to be a pretty fickle bunch. Nevertheless, let’s start things off with Ben Carson, the once and possibly future GOP frontrunner.

Like everyone else in the GOP field, Carson has dutifully condemned the Affordable Care Act. This, despite the fact that, by 2019, 32 million Americans will have health insurance who didn’t have it before, and our federal deficit will drop by a projected $152 billion by 2024. By and large, though, the ultimate effect of the Affordable Care Act on the small business is not yet certain.

Carson has referred to the ACA’s employer healthcare mandate as a “significant consequence” of doing business in America. As you may know, businesses that employ more than 50 people must, under the ACA, provide each of them with healthcare. According to Carson, “that’s no good,” and is grounds for repealing the ACA.

The thing is, a battery of independent studies have proven false the popular Republican talking point that the ACA is “killing jobs” in the small business sector. Carson’s suggestion that small business owners are suffering under the ACA looks like more hot air.

So let’s look closer, this time at some case studies. It turns out that a number of independent restaurant owners all across America are trying something new: they’re doing away with tipping, and providing their employees with not just a living wage, but also with health and retirement benefits. All of this, before the ACA’s employer mandate even kicked in. And so far, the results have been extremely positive, with the businesses not just meeting their numbers, but handily exceeding them.

As a frontrunner, Carson’s mistrust of the ACA makes him a perfect GOP candidate, but it shows a general misunderstanding about how federal legislation actually plays out in the real world. It may be true, in some states, such as Pennsylvania, that additional taxes and expectations could hurt local economies. But so far, it looks like Carson is betting on the wrong horse by focusing on dismantling existing federal law, rather than on proposing something new.

So that’s Ben Carson. What about Donald Trump, who by any measure seems to be dominating the conversation among Republican voters? Turns out, small businesses love The Donald.

According to a recent poll, 41 percent of small business owners regard Trump as the best candidate, which is a significant margin.

small-business-electionMuch of Trump’s pro-small-business platform centers on tax reform, which, while not detailed, has unsurprisingly struck a chord with Middle America. According to Trump’s official campaign website, the real estate mogul intends to cut taxes for the middle class and “simplify the tax code,” which should help out aspiring and struggling small business owners alike. He also intends to grow the federal government’s flow of tax revenue by putting corporate America in its place. He’d do this by “discouraging” corporate tax inversions and adding “a huge number of new jobs.”

Again, this is fairly imprecise language, but it’s clear that Trump is positioning himself as an ally to the small business owner—and so far, it’s working. Say whatever else you will about the man (and there’s plenty to say), but if there’s one thing he knows, it’s how to do business in America.

The Democratic Field

Two clear frontrunners have emerged on the Democratic side of the aisle: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. In Iowa and New Hampshire, which hold the earliest caucuses in the country early next year, Senator Sanders is pulling in poll numbers very close to Clinton’s, oftentimes within the margin of error. He’s clearly giving the Democratic establishment something to think about.

Both of these candidates have staked their claims as the “Middle-Class President,” and both have developed plans on how best to empower America’s aspiring small business owners. Trouble is, one of these plans is considerably more detailed than the other.

On one of his campaign websites, Sanders touts his 40-year track record of supporting small business-friendly legislation. He supports expanding access to higher education to all Americans, which, evidence tells us, is one of the most important factors that influence the creation of small businesses. He also opposes “intellectual property regimes,” which can strangle innovation and make it harder for emerging companies to compete with established corporations.

Rounding out his support of the small business, Sanders also embraces Net Neutrality, which will help inspire innovation in the telecommunications sector and help break the monopolies currently held by corporations like Verizon, Time Warner, and Comcast. He’s also pledged to reinstate Glass-Steagall — a move that will make low-interest loans more readily available to small business owners. Finally, Sanders has pledged to overhaul the current patent system in the United States, which he says is frequently abused by corporations, at the expense of smaller, would-be innovators.

By comparison, Clinton’s policy proposals for empowering America’s small businesses looks a little bit leaner. Nevertheless, on her campaign website, she lays the groundwork for legislation that would cut red tape for small businesses “at every level of government.” She’s also committed to sweeping tax reform for small employers, noting that businesses with 1-5 employees spend “150 hours and $1,100 per employee to comply with federal taxes.”

It should be noted that Clinton differs from Sanders in key areas. In recent debates, she’s confirmed her reluctance to reinstate Glass-Steagall, for example, although her website makes vague promises about “improving access to capital.” In addition, while falling short of promising free public college tuition, as Sanders has, Clinton has voiced support for reducing student loan debt by reducing interest rates.

Uncommon Common Ground

The short version of all of this is that there’s wisdom to be found on both sides of the aisle when it comes to encouraging innovation among small business owners. Uncommon common ground, if you will.

As a result, voters will have to decide for themselves which of these candidates have the experience — both inside Washington, D.C. and without — to bring about meaningful and lasting change.



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Holly WhitmanAuthor: Holly Whitman is a writer and political journalist, blogging at Only Slightly Biased on everything from human rights to the presidential election. You can also find her on Twitter at @hollykwhitman.