Tag Archives: Thumbtack.com

Vermont Republicans quickly becoming incoherent

Looks like the Vermont Republican Party has decided a guns-a-blazin’, all-out hysterical attack on “the stagnant Shumlin economy” is their ticket to the meager legislative gains they’re hoping for in November.

And, naturally, they’re doubling down on the “F” grade supposedly given Vermont in a national survey of small business owners. Not only are they repeating their earlier claims, they’re getting the facts even wronger.

The VTGOP’s latest news release again refers to “a report by highly respected national magazine The Economist which ranked Vermont among 5 states receiving a grade of ‘F’ for their small business friendliness.”

Okay, where do we begin.

It’s not a “report,” it was a survey. An unscientific survey in which thousands of questionnaires were sent to business owners nationwide.

It wasn’t by “The Economist,” it was by Thumbtack.com.

The Economist isn’t a “national magazine.” It’s a global one, and its headquarters are in Great Britain.

And, once again, Vermont did not receive a grade — at all — in this year’s survey. The “F” came out of the 2012 survey. Thumbtack didn’t receive enough responses from Vermont businesspeople to include the state in this year’s grades.

This is like a game of telephone with only one player — who, even so, manages to thoroughly garble the message as it passes from mouth to ear and on to brain. Ironically, the VTGOP’s news release includes this line:

The first step in solving a problem is recognizing and accurately defining the problem itself.

Uh-huh. And by “accurately defining the problem,” the GOP apparently means “relying on two-year-old figures from an unscientific survey.” Not to mention “exaggerating the issue with overheated rhetoric.”

This whole schemozzle shows how desperate the Republicans are for messaging material, that they have to keep on hammering over and over again on a discredited talking point. It’s embarrassing.

The news release goes on to depict Vermont’s economy as in “crisis,” which it clearly is not. We have our troubles, but crisis? No — “crisis” is what George W. Bush left us with. And President Obama and Governor Shumlin have been trying to dig out from under the Bush rubble ever since.

The Republicans also assert that “Vermont Democrats denied there were any problems with Vermont’s… economy,” which is also patently untrue. I don’t think there’s a Democrat in the state who would argue that we don’t have our share of problems and issues, and the Shumlin Administration has been trying — in its own way, whether you agree with it or not — to make things better. When you consider how awful things were in 2008-09, plus the severe blow of Tropical Storm Irene in the summer of 2011, things in Vermont have gotten a whole lot better.

Republicans are already in danger of losing touch with reality, and losing credibility with undecided and centrist voters. Hysterical, over-the-top rhetoric won’t convince anyone that we’re on the cusp of apocalypse.

Speaking of doubling down, the news release concludes with a challenge for a debate on the economy between party chairs “Super Dave” Sunderland and Dottie Deans “in a neutral forum.” This bit of red-flag theatricality is completely meaningless. The Republicans hope that Deans ignores the challenge, so they can accuse her of ducking the issues.

In fact, the job of the party chair isn’t to take part in debates; that’s what candidates do. Party chairs are supposed to spend their time managing and organizing their parties. And that, in itself, is at least a job and a half.

At least it is for Deans, who leads an active, vibrant organization. Super Dave, on the other hand, has a paid staff of ONE to oversee, a sickly grassroots network, and a meager budget. Maybe he has time for pointless media events, but Deans has work to do.

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Dear @VTGOP: Please retract your most recent press release.

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?