USA TODAY - President Obama and Mitt Romney both say they'll reduce the burden on small businesses and help them create jobs. But as campaigns head into their final weeks, more owners believe the reverse will happen.
More than three-quarters, 77%, of small businesses believe their taxes will increase, and that's one reason 67% of them don't plan on hiring next year, according to a study released today by The Hartford. Additionally, just 33% of are optimistic about the economy - down sharply from the 61% that were upbeat six months ago.
"The deterioration in the percentage of small-business owners who are optimistic as compared to six months ago is remarkable," says Liam McGee, CEO of The Hartford.
Both candidates have said that if their opponent wins they will mess it up for small businesses. Are those the negative messages that owners are taking home?
The Hartford's study, which surveyed more than 2,000 small-business owners, shows they are hanging on to every word the candidates say on small-business policy. About 83% of them say they'll be thinking about it when they cast their votes.
"All they're hearing is how one side is going to screw it up and how the other side is going to screw it up," says Garrett Sutton, author of Run Your Own Corporation. "That has an effect with business owners. They're sitting on their hands waiting to see what's going to happen."
A similar small-business study from PNC Bank released two weeks ago shows only 23% of small-business owners are optimistic about their own company's six-month outlook, down from 28% six months earlier.
"They're a bit less optimistic, a little more cautious than they were back in the spring," says Stuart Hoffman, PNC's chief economist.
Hugo Bueno, owner of Bueno Construction in Hollywood, Fla., is more than a little more cautious. He says he's afraid he'll have to close his business after 28 years and become a construction worker himself.
"If push comes to shove, I go back to my tool belt and go back to work, and I send everybody home," Bueno says. "I don't care who wins the election; what I care is, am I going to be able to pay my bills?"
Each candidate's camp says don't look at them. When asked why optimism was so low for small businesses, Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg blames Obama.
"Gov. Romney has consistently heard from small businesses about their concerns regarding the impact of President Obama's big government policies," Henneberg says.
And guess whom Obama campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher attributes the low morale to?
"Mitt Romney's rhetoric on small business hides the fact that his plan could put 30 million small-business owners at risk of a tax increase, and with his promise to repeal Obamacare, Romney would throw the tax cuts for small businesses it contains out the window as well," says Fetcher.