The survey was conducted shortly after the government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s immigration policy and demands for a border wall ended. The shutdown had significant effects on businesses — especially in states like Alabama, where there are large consumer bases working for NASA, the U.S. Army and a dozen other federal agencies. It also led to sales slowdowns for one-third of small-business owners, as well as management frustrations for owners across the country.
However, only one-fifth of small-business owners nationwide said the shutdown was a major concern for their business, while 29 percent described it as a minor concern. Exactly half said it was not a concern. Non-small business owners — whose responses also are included in the survey — were much more likely to think small businesses would be hurt by a shutdown.
There is a deadline end of day Friday for a border deal to remove the threat of another shutdown. No agreement has been reached yet on Capitol Hill.
The small-business survey audience — which skews conservative — seemed to fall in line with Trump, as immigration was a major news story at the time the survey was conducted. Immigration was cited as the issue that “matters most to you right now” by the largest percentage of respondents (27 percent) in the first-quarter survey, surpassing jobs and the economy. It was cited as the No. 1 issue by 42 percent of Republican small-business owners — up from 29 percent in the fourth quarter last year. There also was a 10 percent jump, to 19 percent, among Independents citing immigration as No. 1. Few small-business owners who identify as Democrats listed immigration first among issues (6 percent).
Last week the White House and Trump indicated that no major meeting with Chinese President Xi was planned for before the next round of tariffs on China are scheduled to go into effect in March. That hit the stock market, but the majority of small-business owners don’t expect trade policy to have a negative effect on their business in the next year (56 percent). The percentage of small-business owners who say trade policy will have a negative effect has been elevated over the past four quarters of the survey as the trade spat with China has intensified. Still, only one-quarter (25 percent) expect trade to be negative for their business in the next year.
Overall approval ratings for Trump have been consistent in this conservative-leaning population, with 56 percent of small-business owners — 90 percent of Republicans, 36 percent of Independents and 8 percent of Democrats — approving of his handling of the presidency in the first quarter, versus 58 percent when the survey began in Q2 2017.
“Confidence levels are off their peak from 2018, and recent market volatility and political uncertainty may have made them more fragile,” said Laura Wronski, senior research scientist at SurveyMonkey. “But overall, confidence among both consumers and small-business owners remains relatively high.”