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Economy

Small business owners strongly back Trump's handling of economy, survey shows

Key Points
  • Owners of private held businesses appear pleased with President Trump's economic policies.
  • A Wilmington Trust survey finds that 59% of respondents "strongly or somewhat" back the administration's approach.
  • The business owners are most concerned with a potential recession as well as fears over trade.
President Donald Trump greets well-wishers after arriving at Des Moines International Airport, en route to a campaign fundraising dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, June 11, 2019.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Donald Trump's popularity with the general public has been wobbly, but his standing with business continues to be strong.

Small business owners in particular remain high on the president's pro-business agenda of lower taxes and deregulation, according to a survey released Tuesday by Wilmington Trust.

The survey of more than 1,000 privately held businesses taken between May 24-June 14 found that 59% of respondents "strongly or somewhat" approve of the way the Trump administration has handled business-related issues. Also, 53% said the administration's policies have had a positive impact on their businesses, while 46% say their confidence has increased since the 2016 election.

Those positive results come even though just 39% of respondents identified as Republican, with 30% independent, 26% Democrat and the rest not sure or preferred not to answer.

VIDEO4:2704:27
Two small business CEOs speak out against the US-China trade tariffs

"Small businesses have benefited from the Trump approach," said Tony Roth, chief investment officer at Wilmington Trust. "They don't see a recession coming. It's not imminent or evident to them so they continue to be supportive of the administration. I think if that changes, their outlook or approach will be very, very different."

Indeed, while the business owners still back Trump, their primary fears focus on the current uncertain business climate.

Their biggest fear is a possible recession, followed by trade policy and inflation. Many economists expect that growth will continue to slow, with the bond market pointing to a potential recession over the next 12 months or so. On trade, Trump has taken a tough stance, implementing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum as well as $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Should any of those areas go wrong, that could dent the business view of Trump.

"Maybe they know more than we do. Maybe Trump is going to get this trade thing sorted out and he's going to get another term and everything is going to be hunky-dory," Roth said. "That's what surprised us, that they weren't more cautious in their outlook."

Trump's public popularity has been more suspect. His approval rating as measured by Gallup has been in a range of 35% to a peak of 46% and is currently at 43% — about the same level as his predecessor, Barack Obama, at the same point in his administration.

With support at that level, getting the trade issue right and keeping the country out of recession should prove critical as re-election looms in 2020.

"As strategists, we're fairly concerned with what might happen to the economy if he were to follow through with the threats he's made," Roth said. "We think the economy is really maxed out in terms of how many tariffs it can handle."

Small businesses tend to be less impacted by tariffs, though it can vary. Companies that don't import or export a lot don't have to worry about cost of goods shipped internationally.

"They probably aren't as sensitive to the idea that tariffs could cause recession," Roth said. "In a recession, all businesses lose, even small businesses that have no dependency on trade. They're going to take it on the chin as much as anyone will. Therein may lie some of the disconnect."