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US businesses are deeply dissatisfied with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump for shunning the concerns of corporate America, but would prefer to see the Democrat in the White House, according to lobby groups that represent more than 30,000 companies.
A Financial Times survey reveals that business groups have become increasingly dismayed by the bitter campaign as the two candidates have launched populist attacks on corporate America in addition to impugning each other.
Mrs Clinton is favoured over Mr Trump by a ratio of two to one, maintaining the position she held when the FT polled business groups in May. But a larger number of respondents — 45 per cent — say they are not happy with either candidate or cannot choose between them.
The results suggest business faces a period of post-election angst regardless of who wins on Tuesday, as a possible Trump victory stokes fears of a trade war, while the prospect of a Clinton win sparks worries of a leftwing assault on big companies.
“Both of them are less than ideal. Less than we’ve ever had before,” said Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Technology Association, whose members include Apple, Uber and Best Buy. “This is an election of two bad choices and which is worse.”
The survey revealed pockets of concern over the potential for unrest if the election result is close or disputed, together with widespread contempt for both candidates’ failure to address how to reduce the US’s towering national debt.
The FT polled 58 Washington-based trade associations and received responses from 18 of them that lobby for some 37,000 businesses with combined annual revenues of more than $8tn.
A lobbying chief who represents big-name multinationals said most of his members were “not at all excited about Hillary Clinton”, partly because she turned against the TPP trade pact that she once supported. But he said they would be more comfortable with her than Mr Trump.
“They would have preferred a more conventional pro-business candidate who would have supported trade,” he added. “They’re very mindful of the fact this is the first presidential election since world war two where neither of the candidates has supported trade liberalisation.”
Despite running as a businessman, Mr Trump has strained ties between the Republican party and its corporate allies by threatening to tear up trade deals. He has also criticised Apple, Ford and others for manufacturing overseas and slammed the backroom influence of company lobbyists.
Only 17 per cent of trade associations said he would be the best president, citing his promises to slash regulation and taxes. Mr Trump has pledged to cut the top rate of corporate tax from 35 per cent to 15 per cent whereas Mrs Clinton has not said whether she would change it.
But one pro-Trump respondent said: “It is doubtful he has the political skill to implement anything beneficial to us.”
Mr Shapiro, who supported Mitt Romney in 2012, said: “Donald Trump would not be hired for a job by most people in corporate America. The level of ego, the divisiveness, the lack of ethics, several thousand lawsuits, the self-aggrandisement. He’s not a team player.”
Mrs Clinton has made a habit of attacking big companies by name, chastising Wells Fargo for creating faked bank accounts, Mylan for price gouging with its EpiPen, and Pfizer for attempting to cut its tax bill by moving its domicile overseas.
But 39 per cent of respondents said she would be the best president, arguing she represented stability and experience. “Mr Trump has demonstrated a level of unpredictability that is virtually unseen in American politics. Mrs Clinton, on the other hand, is the epitome of a ‘known quantity’,” said one lobby group head.
Others, however, expressed doubts about how she would govern politically, noting she faces emboldened liberals such as Bernie Sanders, her erstwhile primary challenger, who pulled her to the left on issues such as trade, banks and college fees.
One respondent noted that Mrs Clinton has said “you need both a public and a private position” on issues, according to a speech transcript released by WikiLeaks last month. “I am not sure that Clinton is sincere in her statements. Who knows,” he said. “The Democratic left will probably force Clinton to stick with her public positions.”
Another said: “Hillary is a pragmatist and hopefully that will prevail if she is elected.”
A majority of respondents said they were not worried the election would trigger unrest that affected their members, but three in 10 said they were somewhat concerned and one in 10 were very concerned.
“I think we can handle [violence] if it should occur. I think it’s more the uncertainty,” said Mr Shapiro. Noting that Al Gore eventually urged his supporters to accept the result of the contested 2000 election, he said: “If Trump doesn’t do that ever, or for some significant period of time, it’s obviously going to be damaging to the US in many different ways to deny the legitimacy of the office of the presidency.”
There was an overwhelming consensus among 89 per cent of lobby groups that the election has already harmed the US’s image in the eyes of the rest of the world.
The two candidates also scored poorly on tackling the US’s nearly $20tn national debt, which corporate leaders see as a long-term threat to economic growth. Asked which candidate’s policies would do most to reduce the national debt, two-thirds of respondents chose “none of the above” or said they did not know.
“Real deep policy positions that include pain are not a headline in this election,” said one trade association. “Neither of these candidates would be inclined to make the difficult decisions necessary to reduce the federal debt.”
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