It could be that the prospects for continued slow economic growth at home and the gloomy economic picture globally are weighing on them.
That's according to Wells Fargo Bank, which along with Gallup polled 600 small business owners in the first week of April, for the bank's second-quarter small business survey.
Wells Fargo grades small business sentiment using a numerical index with a top range of 400, although sentiment never scores that high. For the quarter, the index landed at 64, down three points from the first quarter of 2016 and flat with the second quarter of 2015.
The last time confidence was 100 or more was the third quarter of 2007, according to the survey data.
The tepid confidence level is somewhat at odds with how business owners view their current financial situations--67 percent gave their situation a rating of good, the same as the prior quarter and an increase of two percentage points compared with the second quarter of 2015. Fifteen percent rated their financial situation as poor, which has been flat for the last 7 quarters.
Similarly, 72 percent of business owners said they expect their financial situation 12 months from now to be good, an increase of one percentage point from the first quarter; 11 percent said they expect their situation to be poor, a decrease of one percentage point from the first quarter.
Recent hiring and plans for future hiring also flattened out. Eighteen percent of small business owners said their headcount increased in the previous 12 months, while 15 percent said it decreased. Both numbers are about the same as the prior quarter, and both increased two percentage points compared with the second quarter of 2015.
More importantly, 23 percent said they plan to add workers, a decrease of three percentage points from the first quarter; 9 percent said they planned to scale back on the number of workers they have, an increase of two percentage points.
Wells Fargo's most recent small business survey also has a revealing section on the presidential election, which suggests the candidates might be missing an important voting bloc. While 92 percent of respondents said they plan to vote, nearly three-quarters of them said the candidates are not discussing matters that concern them most. The biggest topic they want to hear more about is taxes, noted by nearly a quarter of the business owners polled. That was followed by the economy and health care, noted by 12 percent and 9 percent of respondents respectively.
"Small business owners are a little unnerved that the small business issues that matter the most to them have not come up," says Mark Vitner, a senior economist for Wells Fargo. "This campaign instead has been mostly populist rhetoric, and some of that is not so business-friendly."