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Wells Fargo Survey: Business Owners Highlight Priority Issues for 2020 Campaign

Optimism continues upward tick, but one-third see likely economic downturn ahead

Small business owners showed continued optimism for their businesses and the U.S. economy in the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index. Respondents also signaled which issues are most important to them in next year’s elections.

Conducted Sept. 30–Oct. 4, the survey showed a six-point increase in overall optimism. The majority of owners said their issues are not being discussed on the campaign trail.

Optimism from business owners about their present and future financial situations saw slight increases, with scores of 67 and 75 respectively. More than 80% of owners said their current financial situation was somewhat or very good, while 85% said the same would be the case 12 months from now.

When asked about the current state of the U.S. economy, 63% rated it as either good or excellent (representing a 7-point decrease from last quarter), and 56% agreed that the economy was on the right track for business growth over the next 12 months. One indicator tempering this optimism is that a third of business owners (33%) said an economic downturn is either “very” or “extremely” likely in the next 12 months, though two-thirds said they are somewhat or very prepared for such an occurrence.

“The Small Business Index is invaluable as one of the tools we use not only to measure current sentiment and priorities among business owners, but future ones,” said Elli Dai, head of Small Business and Personal Lending Group at Wells Fargo. “Both the continued optimism of business owners and their thoughts on key priorities and issues for the election and economy overall provide a window into how to best support their continued growth.”

2020 campaign issues

The survey also delved into owner sentiment concerning the upcoming 2020 elections. When asked what impact the winner of the presidential election would have on their business, more than half (51%) described it as major, 37% said minor, and 12% said not much at all. When asked if candidates in the 2020 presidential election were discussing issues most important to them, more than two-thirds (69%) said they were not.

When asked to identify issues they most wanted candidates to address, business owners highlighted taxes (21%), healthcare (11%) and the economy (10%) as their top priorities. Other national issues such as immigration (4%), climate change (3%) and national security (%) were less highly emphasized.

Attracting new business remains top challenge

For the third consecutive quarter, business owners highlighted attracting customers and new business as their top challenge, with 15% putting it at the top of the list. Competition from online retailers and larger corporations was the second highest-rated challenge (10%), and hiring continued to be a key consideration as 9% rated it as their top challenge.

“These results seem to indicate that the cautious optimism we have observed over the past few quarters is still present among owners,” said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo. “As optimism continues to climb, indicators such as the levels of preparedness for a downturn and the challenges they are highlighting denote a more tempered outlook.”

Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index Scores: Q4 2018 – Q4 2019

Overall Index Score Present Situation Future Expectations
Q4 2019 (surveyed Septmeber/October 2019)* 142 67 75
Q3 2019 (surveyed July 2019)* 136 64 72
Q2 2019 (surveyed April 2019) 129 62 67
Q1 2019 (surveyed January 2019) 106 46 60
Q4 2018 (surveyed November 2018) 129 59 70

*Using updated web-based surveying methodology. Results from the web mode are not directly comparable to the prior phone survey.

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