The Presidential Election cycle has returned -- whether we wanted it or not. It’s still extremely early, yet more than 20 Democratic candidates have announced their interest. That’s a lot of folks whose policies might become our new reality in the restaurant industry starting in January of 2021. Consequently, we thought we should provide some insight on policies being offered by these candidates and how they might affect our industry.
Note: This is not exhaustive and just a review of policies that have been reported and what their implications are for our industry.
To accomplish this, we are going to only review candidates currently polling in the Top 5. The lens we have chosen is exclusively how it will impact the prospects and profitability of the restaurant industry. We aren’t here to play politics and our only aim is to deliver you facts about their policies and our belief how they will impact your business. We will not discuss policies from candidates that have less than 5% support in current polling. That isn’t to say these candidates don’t matter, except that they don’t until they have a legitimate amount of support.
As candidates go, Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders is among the most recognizable in the field and he leads current polling of declared candidates by a significant margin. His policies are a mixed bag for our industry.
First and foremost, he calls for a $15 minimum wage, which most in our industry believe would be a destructive policy, especially given that it wouldn’t account for regional differences in prevailing wages. However, any discussion about Bernie must also include his push for universal healthcare. This specific policy would actually be pretty good for our industry. Employers would no longer have to bear the cost of healthcare for the employees, freeing up money for other endeavors like training.
He has also been bullish on income equality and demanding that the wealthiest Americans pay more taxes to equalize income. While this notions sounds scary to a lot of American’s, there’s a truth hidden in the rhetoric. These taxes would impact a tiny percentage of Americans, all of whom are worth millions upon millions of dollars. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t care about your wealthy neighbors, only that it won’t have much impact on our industry.
As a former prosecutor, California Senator Kamala Harris is known for a sharp intellect, but she also claims to be for working people. During her announcement speech in Oakland she made several assertions about what her platforms include.
First, she believes healthcare is a right. Unfortunately, we don’t know what that means policy wise. She is also for universal Pre-K education and debt-free college. Either of these policies are good for our industry. Pre-K education not only gives kids a great head start towards education, it also frees families to work who have young children, thus increasing the number of folks in the pool. The debt-free college initiative would also improve the management staff pool, something that would totally benefit our industry.
Harris also supports a working and middle class tax cut that might deliver up to $500/month to working families, which would mean our guests would have more disposable income. Unfortunately, she also supports the expansion of worker’s rights and unionization which many in our industry believe would be destructive. For that policy alone, many restaurant operators will be wary of her candidacy.
RATING: Slightly Negative
The former congressman from El Paso, TX, Beto O’Rourke burst onto the scene in late 2018 with his erstwhile challenge to sitting Senator Ted Cruz. Beto’s appeal was easy to see. He focused on how much listening he did to his constituents, claiming to have visited every county in the state of Texas. While that’s an honorable effort, it doesn’t tell us much about his policies. A visit to his website delivers no additional insight into his policy approaches. He uses nebulous terms like “everyone deserves” and “let’s ensure.” Unfortunately, they aren’t followed by specific policy prescriptions.
The closest we can come to determining his potential impact on our industry is to track his positions on strengthening education and unions. Here he mirrors Kamala Harris in calling for universal Pre-K, but stops short on the question of college. As far as unions are concerned, he does enumerate some actually proposals. Specifically he supports apprenticeship programs and stronger unions in general. To be direct, his policy chops don’t do much for those of us that think it matters. He’s banking more on the emotional and moral component of his campaign and less on specific policy initiatives. His desire to crank on unions alone makes him a bit of a threat to our industry, so we can’t grade him too positively.
RATING: Slightly Negative
Other than Bernie, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is the best known of the candidates. Considered infamous to some, no one can deny that she is a prolific policy wonk. Her website enumerates dozens of policy positions that are clearly stated and represent a pretty complete political view.
From an industry perspective, she is clearly committed to worker’s rights and supports unions, but she also supports universal Pre-K. She goes further than Senator Harris and also calls for free higher education. In fact she recently announced a plan that would cancel over a trillion in student debt. While that may sound expensive, much like Bernie, she’d drop the tab on the richest of Americans. Our industry would totally benefit from our consumer class, Millennials, having more money to spend each month on their own needs. And since they are also our managers and staff, the salaries you pay them will go further and maybe even help your retention.
She has not been clear on her position as pertains to healthcare, but does assert her belief that it’s a right, just as Bernie Sanders. The difference is, Bernie’s plan is crystal clear. In general, her reputation as an anti-corporate warrior coupled with a mixed bag on other policies makes her the least attractive candidate we reviewed as pertains to the restaurant industry.
Mayor Pete, as he’s known in South Bend, has presided over a significant turnaround during his tenure as his honor. Unfortunately, of the Top 5 candidates at this point, he has the least policy definition. In fact, his website literally lacks a single policy description. As a result we are forced to equivocate on his rating. As the campaign progresses, we may be able to return to his policies for a more clear understanding of his positions.
For now, he is also a mixed bag from his time as mayor. Some claim things are on the upswing while others complain he has encouraged gentrification. Either way, his community loves him and he has proven capable of managing a small city. That may or may not translate to the White House. For now, we are going to mark him as unknown.
BONUS: Joe Biden
Note: This is a last minute add-on as he announced his candidacy just after we originally wrote this piece.
For a guy that has been in the public eye for almost five decades, the positions enumerated on his website are vague and generalized. From his public voting record, he has been a dedicated supporter of unions and many of the vague references on the vision portion of his site describes ideas around making life better and path easier for American workers. Unfortunately, we just don’t know how that translates into real world policies. One real world policy we can attached to Joe Biden is the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) which has cost many restaurant operators dearly over the past five years. He doesn’t appear to suggest anything about that is on his agenda for change, so we’ll have to wait and see what his plans are.
The other major element of his vision includes a fair and humane immigration system. Once again, he doesn’t strike a specific proposal and, in fact, most of the candidates that have declared have only spoken nebulously about this issue. You would think a prospective president with as much experience as Biden would at least have formulated some specifics about how he would fix our immigration system. His record will also be a liability because after 47 years in public service he’s bound to have said somethings that won’t bode well for him. You need look no further than the recent allegations of misconduct and his ham-handed responses to see he’s going to at least hear from the folks involved in the #MeToo movement.
RATING: Slightly Negative
The Rest of the Field
With 20+ declared Democrats in the Presidential race, this exercise may have been a bit premature. Although, we have to start somewhere. And since they are having the first Democratic debate in June, we didn’t feel too ahead of the game. There is plenty of time for these candidates to show more of their policy positions and we welcome the added info as we navigate this cycle. At least this time, it will be a full field of Democrats and they won’t be able to keep their positions veiled if they have any desire to stand out.
As we asserted from the start, we have no opinion about the politics of any of these candidates. We are exclusively focused on how their potential presidency will impact our industry. We would like to hear any thoughtful opinions you have to offer. Add them to the comments below. If you can confine your opinions to the policy questions posed and not the personal politics, we might be able to have a productive discussion about what is best for your restaurants and our industry as a whole.