CNBC | SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey

Trump supporters are bullish on the economy, just don't expect them to hire new workers

If you're looking for a new job, it might be time to think big, not small.

Barely 1 in 4 small-business owners in the United States expect to hire in the coming year, according to a new quarterly survey from CNBC and SurveyMonkey. And that's despite the fact that a majority of small-business owners have a bullish outlook on sales growth for the next 12 months.

Overall, just 27 percent of small-business owners in the CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey say they plan to add full-time staff in the coming year, and the number anticipating adding employees plummets to 16 percent among those in the beleaguered retail trade.

Small businesses have accounted for about two-thirds of all net new jobs since the 1970s, according to the Small Business Association, so restrained hiring plans from small businesses would likely accelerate growing concern about the overall job market. But those looking to the nation's small businesses for jobs — or to spur widespread job growth — may be heading toward disappointment.

Jobseekers wait to get into the JobNewsUSA job fair at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.
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Jobseekers wait to get into the JobNewsUSA job fair at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.

The small-business-owner outlook could also intensify debate around whether the economy has reached "full employment."

Last week's jobs report from the Labor Department brought bad headlines, including "Jobs creation slumps" and the hardly more uplifting "Weak job growth isn't a disaster." Storylines will all turn more dire if small businesses don't increase their payrolls.

A majority of small businesses in the new survey see revenue increasing over the next 12 months, so why the subdued hiring plans? Part of that answer stems from uncertainty around government policy. About 4 in 10 (38 percent) predict regulatory changes will boost their bottom lines, but that leaves a majority saying they anticipate a negative (26 percent) or no effect (34 percent).

More specifically, the Trump administration has focused its initial push around trade and immigration policy, and on both counts nearly as many small-business owners see likely changes being as detrimental to their businesses as being positive ones.

There's significantly greater enthusiasm for tax policy changes that might come from the administration among the small-business owners surveyed in this Q2 report. But even among those foreseeing a boost from tax reform, barely more than 1 in 3 now plan to hire more full-time staff. Of course, there's also the open question about what kind of tax policy will get through Congress.

Another administration initiative that could have positive spillover effects on small businesses, but also possibly dampen hiring, centers on technology: Senior advisor and President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner is heading up the American Technology Council, which aims to help modernize the federal government. The focus on technology is one that dovetails with how small-business owners are approaching their own retooling. Optimism about technology is unifying among small-business owners. Unlike other factors included in the CNBC/SurveyMonkey index, expectations regarding technological innovation are net positive across all industries, firm sizes and owner demographics.

Politics is a drag on economic outlook

Relatively high hopes for what technology can bring also crosses the political spectrum: Regardless of partisan affiliation, small-business owners are more apt to see innovation improving rather than hurting their businesses. On all other areas, including general outlook, there's a more yawning gap between the views of those who identify as Republican vs. Democratic.

Politics is a drag on economic confidence. On the index itself, small-business owners who are Republicans or GOP-leaning independents score a 70, on the 0 to 100 scale, while Democrats and those who tilt Democratic sit at 47. That 23-point gap approaches the 32-point gap between partisans in the new SurveyMonkey/Vox survey of consumer sentiment , which generally reveals similarly stark patterns.

More from CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey:
Why the majority of small-business owners love Trump's tax plan
Small-business owners are confident about economy and future of their business

In the small-business survey, fully 60 percent of Republican small-business owners anticipate regulatory changes to help their businesses; a scant 9 percent of Democratic ones feel similarly. The only gap in the data that's bigger is when it comes to anticipated effect of tax reform: 65 percent of GOP-leaners expect that to add to their businesses, which is an opinion shared by only 11 percent of those who lean toward the Democrats.

Together, the bifurcation of consumers and small-business owners may complicate economic predictions by further binding spending and employment decisions to the twists and turns of politics. But the effect on corporate strategy is already revealing itself: This week the Trump organization unveiled plans for the "American Idea" hotel chain to debut in areas where candidate Trump performed well in 2016.

Whether it's politics, policy or just plain old revenue growth, we'll be tracking the main drivers of small-business confidence and hiring in the quarters ahead. Stay tuned.

By Jon Cohen, chief research officer and Laura Wronski, survey research associate, at SurveyMonkey.