Small-business owners in the D.C. area say one of their top issues for the presidential election is ethics in government, a new survey shows -- an indication that corruption in the District government might be shaping local voters' thinking on national politics.
"It kind of shocked me that the corruption issue was as significant as it was," said David Rehr, one of the co-authors of the survey by the George Washington University and Thumbtack.com. "If you had asked me before the survey, I would have said jobs, economy and fuel prices."
According to the study, 12 percent of small-business owners in the region identified "ethics/honesty/corruption in government" as the most important issue they were considering as they weighed their presidential options.
Only the economy, the survey said, received greater emphasis from D.C.-area entrepreneurs.
Rehr said the study had a margin of error of 5 percent.
The many scandals in the District government have prompted headlines, resignations and criminal charges, and the business community has long signaled its displeasure with them.
Although the DC Chamber of Commerce hasn't linked the District's ethics troubles to business owners' voting patterns in federal elections, a spokesman for the chamber acknowledged the criminal investigations have taken a toll on the city's economy.
"Our city's competitiveness in the regional market has been truly tested lately, in part by the ethical lapses we have seen in the past couple years, making business attraction and retention that much more difficult," said chamber spokesman Max Farrow.
But it's not just a few business owners in the D.C. area who have narrowed their focus to corruption issues. Across the country, the survey found, political ethics are looming larger in business owners' minds.
In the 39 metro areas that the survey covered, an average of 14 percent of business owners in each city ranked ethics as their primary presidential election issue. Rehr attributed the emergence of ethics as a priority to the broad economic malaise that is lingering across the United States.
"When everyone's doing well and businesses are prospering, people tolerate politics," Rehr said. "But when you have bad economic conditions, that intensifies the introspection that people give to how their government operates."
Ward 3 D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh said she understands why local politics could play a role in presidential politics during this election cycle.
"People don't have these neat compartments," Cheh said. "They're just thinking about the 'political scene,' and even though you may be looking at the presidential election, maybe this steady drumbeat and drip, drip, drip of investigations and allegations and that sort of thing at the local level has infected that."