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Romney Missed Opportunity to Capitalize on Business Gloom

Earlier this week,  a survey of 800 small businesses and manufacturers conducted by Public Opinion Research painted a pretty bleak picture of the prospects for hiring and expansion. Here are the highlights:

-- 55 percent said they were worse off than four years ago and would not start a business today;

-- 62 percent said U.S. rules, regulations and taxes were a greater impediment than foreign competition (32 percent);

-- 69 percent said President Obama's executive actions and regulatory policies have hurt them;

-- the top challenges are health insurance costs (56 percent) and government spending (54 percent).

Glen Bolger and Bill McInturff, partners at POS, conducted the survey between Aug. 13 and Sept. 4 for the National Federation of Independent Business and National Association of Manufacturers. The findings merely quantify what small business has been saying all along.

The gloom and doom isn't limited to small-fry. Yesterday, the Business Roundtable reported that its CEO Economic Outlook Survey plunged to 66 in the third quarter, the lowest in three years and a huge drop from 89.1 in the second quarter. The survey asks chief executives of the nation's largest companies about their expectations for sales, capital spending and hiring over the next six months.

"Uncertainty" is a big issue for both large and small companies. (My two cents is that "uncertainty" has become a euphemism for pessimism.) And who can blame them? Just thinking about four more years like the last four is enough to get anyone down.

This is an issue on which Republican nominee Mitt Romney could capitalize. He understands business. He's lived it. He's acquired companies, dressed them down, dressed them up and resold them at a profit. Obama says he wants to help the middle class. But if small and big businesses aren't investing, expanding and hiring, you have to wonder about the source of that help.

(Caroline Baum is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View columnists and editors at the Ticker.

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