By Jack Faris

December 4, 2005

Small Business Ain’t ‘Bean Bag’

American small-
business owners understand all too well that politics is a challenging and often demanding sport. Nevertheless, they exhibited the optimism so prevalent in entrepreneurs, agreeing overwhelmingly that if good people get involved, they can bring about positive change.

Politics,” humorist Finley Peter Dunne once wrote, “ain’t bean bag,” referring to a children’s game popular in the 19th century. His tongue-in-cheek message resonated with readers of his day: The political process is not a game, but a serious undertaking with high stakes.

On the heels of November’s elections, American small-business owners understand all too well that politics is a challenging and often demanding sport. Nevertheless, they exhibited the optimism so prevalent in entrepreneurs, agreeing overwhelmingly that if good people get involved, they can bring about positive change.

Politics is so deeply imbedded in American life that it would be difficult to find any citizen who lacks a firm opinion about the process. Yet many who hold negative views about the activity are, nonetheless, close observers. In a recently released National Fed-eration of Independent Business (NFIB) poll, more than eight in 10 of those surveyed admitted to being “highly” or “somewhat interested” in public affairs or politics, and their participation shows it.

A disproportionately large share of small-business owners polled-95 percent-are registered to vote, and 84 percent told surveyors that they usually go to the polls on Election Day. During the past four years, 3 percent-more than 175,000 small-business owners-said they offered themselves as candidates for one of the nation’s half-million-plus elective offices.

Could that be because small-business owners are typically more educated than the general public? Or is it a response to the constant battering by regulators, tax collectors and anti-business activists who see small enterprises as piggy banks to be pillaged to pay for government programs?

The prevailing attitude of the owners of small firms toward public affairs and politics is steeped in a sense of duty. Ninety-six percent believe that every citizen should fully participate, if only to vote. And 82 percent say that business owners are leaders who have a responsibility to jump into the fray.

The primary motivation for involvement, some two-fifths said, is to improve the overall well- being of their area, state and country. Only 14 percent said “business interests” drove them to seek a role in politics.

Getting active in politics is costly because it takes owners away from the day-to-day operations of their firms and almost always requires some financial expense. But those surveyed made it clear they labor under no false assumptions about money and politics: Slightly more than half believe that they are expected to contribute financially if they want to be effective. Forty-three percent confirmed that during the past four years, they have made contributions to causes or candidates.

Politics ain’t bean bag-but neither is starting and successfully running a small business in today’s intensely competitive and excessively regulated marketplace. These folks create places for more than half of the nation’s private-sector employees to work, provide nearly half of the total U.S. private payroll and generate the greatest share of net-new jobs each year. Imagine what those business owners could do if they didn’t have to waste a lot of their productive time and energy fending off their government.

Let’s hope they get more involved in politics.

Jack Faris is the president of the National

Federation of Independent Business, a small-business
advocacy group. A non-profit, non-partisan organiza-

tion founded in 1943, NFIB represents the consensus
views of its 600,000 members in Washington, D.C.,

and all 50 state capitals. More information is avail-
able on-line at www.NFIB.org.

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