At the peak of the public furor over the detention of immigrant children this summer, and as CEOs of large corporations and popular tech companies protested President Donald Trump's immigration policy, he decided to give a speech. The location: a meeting of the small-business lobby group, the National Federation of Independent Business.
The venue in which Trump chose to speak out during the immigration uproar shouldn't come as a surprise. Barely 1 in 8 small-business owners blame immigration restrictions for difficulties they have hiring skilled workers, according to the latest CNBC|SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey, a quarterly online poll with responses from 2,085 small-business owners.
The immigration debate has simmered throughout much of Trump's presidency, but over multiple CNBC/SurveyMonkey quarterly checks, small-business owners consistently report little effect on their businesses.
Rather than immigration, small-business owners point to a lack of training, stiff competition from larger corporations and a generally competitive hiring market when asked why it is hard for them to bring new people on board.
The third-quarter survey began fielding on July 27, one day after the deadline for the reunification of those families who were separated at the southern border, and concluded Aug. 5. Yet this quarter's results are exactly in line with data from every previous quarter of the survey when it comes to immigration policy.
A majority of small-business owners, 62 percent, expect changes in immigration policy to have no effect on their business in the next year. This number has been remarkably stable throughout the six quarters of the survey.
Just 17 percent of small-business owners say immigration will have a negative effect on their businesses in the next 12 months, a number that has only varied within a tight five-percentage-point range. A similar number — 19 percent — expect immigration to have a positive effect on their business in the coming year, down just slightly from 20 percent last quarter and 24 percent at its high point in the second quarter of 2017.
This stands in stark contrast to other policy areas we have been tracking.
The Small Business Confidence Index is calculated from responses to five core survey questions, three of which explicitly ask about changes to government policies on taxes, trade and immigration. Each of these policy areas have undergone significant shakeups in the course of the Trump administration, but only the first two have caused small-business owners to lose confidence.
Opinions on tax policy saw a huge change after the passage of the tax reform bill in December. From the third quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2018, small-business owners' positive expectations regarding tax policy took two consecutive steps up — from 31 percent to 38 percent to 46 percent — before plateauing. The percent expecting changes in tax policy to have a negative effect on their businesses fell from 36 percent in the fourth quarter of last year to 23 percent the following quarter, immediately after the bill became law.
Trade policy changes have led to a gradual bifurcation in expectations in recent months. In past surveys most small-business owners said that trade policy would have no effect on their businesses: 62 percent said so in Q4 of last year, 60 percent in Q1 and 53 percent last quarter. That number dropped to 47 percent this quarter, while the percent expecting a negative effect from trade has risen to 30 percent, and the percent expecting a positive effect stands at 22 percent.
Large policy changes tend to draw public attention to any of these issues, and that attention can both build support and foment opposition.
The policy of family separation — and the debate about its legality, morality and enforcement — has caused concerns about immigration to spike in recent months. An Axios/SurveyMonkey poll found in June that the percent of Democrats and independents who named immigration as the most important issue currently facing the country more than doubled week-over-week.
Still, small-business owners apparently feel far enough removed from this policy change to register much impact. As much as small-business owners have been rattled by changes to tax and trade policy, the immigration debate has yet to have a similar effect on their businesses.