(This post originally appeared on The Hill)
Why didn’t Joe Biden win Florida? Why is he still battling for his political life in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia — states that were within his reach and where many pundits and pollsters predicted he’d win? Many will offer their explanations in the days and weeks to come. But for me there’s one big voting bloc that contributed to these results: small-business owners.
Consider Florida. Not only did President Trump win the battleground state, but he also surprisingly captured a larger share of voters – including many Hispanics – in the Miami-Dade County area than he did in 2016. This should not be surprising. The president’s support also seems to be stronger than expected in Detroit, particularly among Black voters. Same for the Atlanta area and even some urban parts of Wisconsin.
The reason for this isn’t too hard to figure out. It’s about the pandemic and it’s about economic survival. In the weeks to come, and as analysts pick through the data, one thing will be clear: Many small-business owners voted against Joe Biden. There are more than 30 million of us across the country.
In Florida, a significant number of Hispanic voters in the Miami area own small restaurants and shops. Hispanic people have a reputation for being entrepreneurial, and like all entrepreneurs they value their independence. Biden promised to “listen to the scientists” and to take “whatever steps necessary” to contain the coronavirus. For many business owners there and elsewhere, a vote for Biden meant a vote for potentially more shutdowns due to the pandemic.
For a business owner, that’s a very scary statement. We don’t want to hear this. We are not academics, celebrities, media personalities, white collar workers or part of the so-called educated class. Small-business owners in Miami, Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee employ both family members and members of their own community. They are working extremely hard to make ends meet. They are part of the group of people who earn – on average – anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 per year. They can’t afford to stay at home, watch Netflix, take “me” days off and share memes on Instagram like so many of the people I know who work for big companies. They can’t just wait out another crippling lockdown and expect their paychecks to keep coming. This is their livelihoods. This is their survival. Joe Biden threatens that.
Of course, other factors probably played into their voting decision. They don’t like anyone who promises to raise taxes and don’t trust that those increases will affect only the wealthy. They’re aware that more costs and regulations on larger companies will ultimately trickle down to them, mainly because so many small businesses (pizza shops, dry cleaners, restaurants, landscapers and service providers) count big businesses – and their employees – as their customers. They can’t handle a $15 minimum wage, higher health insurance premiums or mandated paid time off.
Most of all, they can’t be asked to shut their doors for a virus that is still being analyzed and debated by many in the scientific community around the world and where so many questions about this pandemic remain unanswered. Considering all the conflicting information and when given a choice, these business owners chose, as the president has so often said, to “live with” the coronavirus. They are willing to take more risks if it means keeping their stores, shops and restaurants open. They’re not happy about that decision. But what else can they do? This is all they have.
Never again should the elites of this country take the small business vote so lightly. These are the people who employ half the workers in this country. They’re the ones battling the larger corporations that can afford to weather whatever regulations, requirements and even shutdowns Washington throws at them. They will always choose policy over personality and support a government that gives them the ability to carry on running their businesses, profit or prosper.
Joe Biden threatens that. He may still win this election. But either way, his road to the White House was made much harder because of all the small-business owners who saw their livelihoods endangered. This election wasn’t just about COVID-19. It was also about economic freedom for those who still have the ability to exercise it.