Vermont Republicans have been making quite a bit of hay from a recently-released survey of American small businesspeople, rating their home state’s friendliness to small business. The survey got a writeup in The Economist, which reported that Vermont got a grade of “F”. The VTGOP has been braying about this, repeatedly, on Twitter, and party chair “Super Dave” Sunderland issued a press release slamming Governor Shumlin for creating such a strongly anti-business climate.
Problem is, no such grade was ever given. The surveyors received too few responses from Vermont, so they omitted the state entirely from their 2014 report. And if the VTGOP has any integrity, it should retract the press release immediately.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Every year, a small-business online services company called Thumbtack.com conducts a Small Business Friendliness Survey, in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. It’s an unscientific poll compiling the opinions of small business owners from across the country. The idea is to hear from businesspeople themselves, the pluses and minuses of their home state’s business environment.
The Economist published a story about this year’s survey in its July 5 issue. Accompanying the story was a map of the US,with each state getting a color code related to its grade. Vermont was deep orange, signifying an “F”.
After reading this, I went to Thumbtack’s own summary, which also had a map of the US. And if you click on a state, you’re linked to a rundown of its results. On Thumbtack’s map, Vermont was light gray. And when you try to click on Vermont, nothing happens.
That’s odd, I thought. At the bottom of the page, Thumbtack offered the email address of its staff economist, Jon Lieber. So I sent him an email asking why I couldn’t access the Vermont results. His reply?
Vermont didn’t receive a grade this year because we didn’t receive enough responses from the state to credibly compare it to other states. We set a minimum response level so that we weren’t just judging noise from a handful of very happy or unhappy business owners. 2012 is the only year we were able to provide a grade for Vermont.
Which explains why no clicky-click on its map. But it doesn’t explain why The Economist, normally a reputable (if pro-business) publication, reported an “F” for Vermont. I asked Lieber about that.
It looks like they took the grades from previous years and mingled them in with grades from this year. Not exactly on point but does help provide some context for states that we were missing this year.
And indeed, in the year 2012 Vermont received an overall grade of “F”. Which is misleading, because Vermont’s overall grades ranged from “A” to “F”, with quite a few high marks. I don’t know how that averages out to an “F”, but that’s beside the point.
Which is, Vermont hasn’t received a grade in the Thumbtack survey for two years. It didn’t get an “F” or any other mark in 2014.
The error was not the Republicans’ fault. They saw the Economist writeup, and assumed (reasonably) that it was accurate. But it’s not, and now they know.
The VTGOP should immediately stop claiming otherwise and issue a clarification.
Postscript. I’ve sent an email to The Economist’s media office asking for an explanation. This seems to be very sloppy journalism. Lieber’s estimation of “Not exactly on point” is, shall we say, very charitable. If The Economist wanted to eliminate gaps by commingling this year’s survey with others, it should — at the very least — told readers what they were doing. I’ll let you know if I get a response.
Postscript II. There was one fascinating result of the survey that went entirely unmentioned by Republicans. The national survey found that two-thirds of small business owners are pretty much unconcerned with their tax burden. In fact, they believe they’re paying about the right amount. They do have concerns with government’s effect on their enterprises in other areas, but taxes? Not a problem. Kinda flies in the face of Republican dogma, doesn’t it?