Entrepreneurs

With Trump and Clinton closer in the polls, uncertainty grows on Main Street

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton
Getty Images: Rhona Wise/AFP | Mychal Watts/WireImage
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

As presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump march toward the November election ever closer in opinion polls, a new report finds political uncertainty on Main Street is growing.

New data from the National Federation of Independent Business finds a record 38 percent of small businesses are citing political uncertainty as a reason not to expand — an all-time high for the group's monthly Small Business Optimism Index. This time last year, political uncertainty was at just 20 percent.

Sentiment on Main Street took a slight dip of 0.2 points for the month of August to 94.4, the NFIB found, led by worries over business conditions. The outlook for business in the next six months took the biggest hit, dropping 7 points.

The economy continued to be the most frequently cited reason for not expanding, followed by political uncertainty. For many small businesses, it's about a lack of detail on the campaign trail from Trump and Clinton on their plans to help smaller companies.

"There's a lack of detail in these platforms — even from Secretary Clinton who has put out a fuller small business platform in recent weeks," said Molly Day, vice president of public affairs for the nonpartisan National Small Business Association. "For small businesses, it's all a numbers game, and details matter."

Clinton, for example, recently said she would create a standard deduction for small businesses, but didn't say how a small business would be defined or how large the deduction should be.

Trump has been even more vague, talking of cutting regulations for businesses of all sizes and simplifying the tax code, giving little detail about what a broader small business platform might look like.

It's a concern that Boston-based business owner ML Mackey, CEO of Beacon Interactive Systems, can relate to. One of her biggest issues in both presidential and congressional elections is consistency.

"One of the challenges that a small business has is consistency in operations — we need to make sure we have the right policies in place. What I am most in my gut concerned about is who I can help send to D.C. that is going to be steady," said Mackey, whose company has 15 employees and builds software systems for the Navy. to manage energy usage. "We should send people who are committed to their vision, but won't shut down the government, for example."

But political concerns stem not just from the candidates' small business platforms, or lack thereof. It's more about not knowing who will win the election, as polls become closer.

The uncertainty "could be because the polls are nearly 50-50," said William Dunkelberg, chief economist for the NFIB. "The race will continue to tighten. As we get down to the first debate, we will see who trips up and who doesn't. That could swing people in the middle a bit, but won't sway the lefties or righties."

Despite uncertainty growing in this month's reading, Dunkelberg doubts the controversy over Clinton's health and near-fall at a 9/11 memorial event on Sunday will have a big effect on the monthly read for August.

"There may be some sympathy that she is sick and working, but it probably won't have a real impact," he said.