The recent downturn in the economy, coupled with long-standing issues like tax cuts and rising health-care costs, are expected to drive business owners to the polls in record numbers for Tuesday's midterm elections.
Of 600 business owners surveyed in a recent Wells Fargo Gallup poll, 89 percent said they plan to vote. Among those who have owned their business for more than five years, the number rose to 91 percent, the survey found.
Nearly three-quarters of the owners surveyed said they believe Tuesday's outcome will have a direct impact on the economic climate for small businesses nationwide, the survey found.
"I know from talking to our members that passions are running high this year," said Karen Kerrigan, president of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, a Washington-based policy watchdog group with more than 70,000 members.
"For small businesses, there were issues left on the table by Congress," Kerrigan said. "That, combined with the current political dynamic, is fueling their interest."
For Kerrigan, those issues include rising energy prices, steep health-care costs, and tax cuts.
In the Wells Fargo survey, 69 percent of small-business owners cited energy prices as extremely or very important in their voting decisions. Over 60 percent also cited healthcare coverage, cutting business taxes, and the general economic conditions, while just over half cited the war on terrorism and the situation in Iraq, the survey found.
"Control of Congress is at stake and our members see that," said Sharon Wolff-Sussin, the political director of the National Federation of Independent Business, a Washington lobby group with over 600,000 members nationwide.
Wolff-Sussin said field volunteers have been going door-to-door across the country in recent weeks to get the small-business vote out for candidates that support such "pro-small business" initiatives as association health plans and repealing the estate tax.
Likewise, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a bus around the country recently to encourage employers to get their workers involved in the elections. More than 95 percent of the Chamber's three million members are businesses with fewer than 100 employees.
Both the Chamber and the NFIB claim to support pro-small-business candidates in both parties, though their official endorsements tend to favor Republicans. Kerrigan's SBE Council is an advocacy group and doesn't officially endorse candidates.
"We don’t look at it as Democrats versus Republicans," NFIB's Wolff-Sussin said. "We look at it as who stand up for small business."
Closer to election day, the group plans to send out reminder faxes and e-mails to members urging them to vote.
"Our members are busy running their businesses," Wolff-Sussin said. "We don't want the day to come and go without them voting."
And if the issues don't drive them to the polls, Wolff-Sussin said she will -- literally. "If our members need a ride to their voting station," she said, "we'll give it them."