Female business owner weighs social against economic policy before voting

Carolyn Kaster/AP - President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, shake hands after the presidential debate, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Two weeks before the election, 52-year-old Mona Harb is still an undecided voter.

As she styles curly hair — her speciality — at the Lofty Salon in Vienna, Va., she discusses the election with whoever is sitting in her styling chair. Harb’s mostly female clientele generally believe President Obama is the best candidate for women, she said, and Harb agrees.

But Harb is also a small business owner. Concern for her salon leans her toward Mitt Romney, whom she considers the better businessman.

Harb isn’t sure whether she’ll vote along the lines of issues affecting women or small business owners, though she identifies strongly with both camps.

“I’m confused,” she said.

Nine percent of voters said there’s a chance they could change their votes, according to a Washington Post-ABC News national poll from earlier this month.

Small business owners are distinct from other voters because they often have to weigh social and economic policy equally, Milken Institute Senior Fellow Phillip Swagel said. While shareholders or employees are affected by both kinds of policies, small business owners have a “bigger role for individual decision making” in terms of both their business and their families, Swagel said.

“Every action that affects [the average voter] is more keenly felt by a small business owner,” Swagel said.

The difficulty of separating the personal from the professional is one reason tax issues get a lot of attention by small business owners, many of whom pay taxes on their profits and losses as part of their individual income taxes.

Whereas Romney has supported tax breaks for all Americans, Obama’s plan to allow tax cuts to expire for families earning more than $250,000 could propel some small businesses to get hit by the higher rate — and Harb predicts she’ll have to pay more taxes by next year, which could be hardship as she tries to put her son through college.

“I don’t think that’s fair to me as a new business,” she said.

Harb’s salon and wellness center currently employs 11 staff members and is expanding quickly — she has concrete plans to hire at least five more employees soon. But she is also concerns about the implications of Obama’s healthcare plan on her business, if she adds staff in the future.

Though her current staff is too small to require her to provide employee health insurance under Obama’s healthcare plan, she worries about what will happen when she someday does meet the requirement — she doesn’t think she’ll be able to afford it.

The past year has been difficult for the Lofty Salon, with declining revenue and customers. To supplement her business, she added a small boutique to the facility, which has helped generate revenue. “I’m doing a good job keeping my business floating, but I need the momentum. I feel like I’ve had to work harder than I have before. It worries me,” she said.

“Romney will probably give me more money, or let me keep more money,” she said. “I’m thinking that Romney will probably be more supportive of small business because they’re the ones that put people to work.”

Harb’s husband, who manages a hotel in Fredericksburg, Va., has already decided to vote for Romney. But Harb can’t stop thinking about her adult daughter, herself, and her female customers.

“We should be able to feel we are the ones making decisions as far as our bodies are concerned,” Harb said, referring to Romney’s opposition to abortion and proposal to de-fund Planned Parenthood, which provides contraceptive pills and health screenings to women.

“If we don’t help these women get the pill, then we have to support the child,” she said. Harb said she is appalled that Romney’s campaign seems to be erasing progress in women’s social issues. “I just feel like, ‘come on, we’ve already been through this,’” she said.

As a Lebanese-America, Harb is also concerned about Romney’s capabilities as an effective foreign policy maker. “I don’t think Romney is capable or prepared,” she said. “I have dual citizenship, and would like to see the country I was born in continue to exist.” But she added, “he’s a great businessman. I’m sure he will probably improve the economy.”

Until either candidate adjusts their stances on women’s social issues, foreign policy, or small business, Harb will remain conflicted, she said.

“What would make me feel good is if I heard Obama say, ‘I made a mistake. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be [to improve the economy].’ I feel like I need to hear that, because there were promises made,” she said.

Romney, she added, could say “‘I am against abortion personally, but majority rules.’”

Barring these statements, Harb’s plan is to make a decision on the morning of the election.

“The first person that comes to mind will be where I’m going to go,” she said.

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