PA small business prefers Romney, expects Obama

ParenteBeard, the Philadelphia-based accounting firm, asked 70 Pennsylvania-based small business owners who they want to win the November presidential election.

Of the 70, some 61 -- that's 86% -- said Romney.

The firm, which employs more than 1,100 and ranks among the 25 largest US accounting firms, also asked who they expect will win. This time 42 -- a majority -- said they thought Obama would be re-elected, John Nealon, head of the firm's small-business accounting practice, told me.

The survey of firm owners and C-level managers was conducted with help from Phliadelphia-based Brathwaite Communications (which isn't working for either side, owner Hugh Brathwaite told me) during the period Sept. 24-Oct. 11, just before the first presidential debate. I asked Nealon if he though more owners would bet on Romney to win if they were queried today; he said he had no proof of that.

The most interesting finding: a significant number of small-business owners and bosses said they help the election will bring clarity to a confusing tax and regulatory environment. Nearly 4 in 10 of those surveyed told ParenteBeard they were waiting until after the vote to hire more workers. 3 in 10 said it wasn't important to their hiring; the rest said they aren't planning to hire more workers anyway.

(1 in 8 employers said the difficulty of finding "qualified, talented new hires" in today's market is their biggest challenge, but larger groups economic uncertainty, health insurance costs and weak consumer spending as bigger problems.)

"What small businesses are looking for, no matter who wins, is clarity," Nealon told me. "What are we looking for in respect to healthcare, and with respect to taxes, in order to make business decisions?" He said owners and managers are worried about regulation, not because they don't like what it's supposed to do, but because "it takes time and expense to implement." The bank reform law told companies to report how much business they do on credit cards; the health reform bill asks for information on company health insurance spending. "Big companies have in-house talent to cover that, but small business relies on people like us, CPAs, to supplement their internal staff, and it's a burden to them," Nealon added.

The businss people, in short, "felt Romney cared more about small business and that he was a better businessman or closer to small business," Nealon concluded.