Poll Says Small Biz Backs 60 MPGBy John O'Dell September 20, 2011
Americas small business owners think Washington ought to require the auto industry to meet a tough 60 miles per gallon fuel economy standard for new cars, according to a newly released poll. The same Internet-based survey of 1,257 business owners found that most small business owners are far more concerned about the economy and the financial health of their companies than they are about government regulation. Its enough to turn the Tea Party into latte drinkers and to make Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner weep. The small business polls findings seem to fly in the face of everything we hear about small business in the U.S. that it is overregulated, overtaxed and wants nothing more than for Washington to leave it alone.
This survey, conducted by the health care and clean energy advocacy group, Small Business Majority, does find that respondents feel the federal government doesnt understand how small business works, doesnt provide them any help and in fact is holding them back by arguing about economic fixes instead of enacting policies that would provide direction. But only 13 percent of respondents said that government regulation is their biggest problem and only 23 percent said that their tax burden was a major worry most cited rising costs and economic uncertainty as the big issues with which they struggle daily. Most respondents also supported increasing national fuel economy standards, use of government regulation to force the American auto industry to become more innovative and continuing efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions from passenger vehicles, factories, refineries, power plants and other stationary sources.
It sounds as though the small business poll tapped into a previously undiscovered well of enlightened self-interest in the small business community, but it is more likely that the results were shaped by the way the questions were asked and the makeup of those members of the randomly selected pool of respondents who actually took time to answer the questions. On the issue of taxes and regulation, for instance, the poll didnt ask whether respondents thought they were fair or unfair, but rather placed them in a list of issues and asked with one or two of the issues were their biggest problems. Thus, that fewer than one in four said taxes were among their biggest problems and just 13 percent cited regulation as their top woe doesnt necessarily mean the others dont feel overtaxed or overregulated. They just dont consider those issues to be the biggest challenges facing them right now.
Not all of the questions left so much wiggle room, though. On the issue of fuel economy regulation, the survey offered two very specific choices in asking respondents with statement came closest to their own points of view:
- On the pro regulation side - should automakers be required to meet higher fuel efficiency standards because our growing dependence in Middle East oil is a serious threat to our national security [and] American car companies lost market share in this country because they built inefficient cars
- On the anti-regulation side we shouldnt require companies to meet higher fuel economy standards because it will hurt American auto companies while helping foreign automakers, costing American jobs. It will result in lighter, unsafe cars on the road, increase the cost of automobiles and take vehicles off the market that people want, like SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks.
Given those two unambiguous choices, 73 percent of respondents still said they felt the federal government should require higher fuel efficiency standards (40 percent strongly supported increasing the standards) while only 27 said no. Of course, many small businesses make deliveries or use vehicles for travel to meet clients and suppliers and would benefit from higher federal fuel economy standards. The poll leaves it up to the reader to make that interpretive leap in understanding the answer.
Thats the way it is with most surveys and polls. They can be read and interpreted in myriad ways. Even the politics of the poll sponsors matter, and in this case wed be remiss in not pointing out that the Small Business Majority is an advocacy group founded by a California technology entrepreneur with strong Democratic Party ties and supported with grants from a variety of social justice groups. It has no dues-paying small business owners as members because, founder John Arensmeyer says, having a small business membership that by nature would be self-selecting would curtail its ability to represent all small businesses objectively. Interesting point. The organization that actually conducted the poll Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner is a Washington, D.C. firm with a strong roster of Democratic politicians and liberal causes as clients.
Theres nothing wrong with all that, of course. There are a lot of advocacy groups and opinion surveying organizations with close ties to the GOP and various conservative causes. In the business arena, even those that insist they are independent or nonpartisan typically lean to the right on issues of regulation and taxation thats the nature of business in this country. Its refreshing to find a polling outfit that can tap a usually silent segment of the small business community and come up with findings like those being reported by Small Business Majority. Most polls are affected to some degree by the biases of their sponsors thats the reason we tend to look askance at many of those we see. We dont believe in censoring, though so we will continue to report on relevant studies by reputable organizations regardless of their leanings, which means that when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce comes out with a poll whose findings are directly the opposite of this one, well report that as well.