Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent endorsement of presidential hopeful Barack Obama has caused a minor stir in the tech community. While some wonder if execs at high profile companies should even get involved in national politics, the reality is that the tech community overwhelmingly supports Obama over McCain, from the executive suite to the corner cubicle.
That’s not to say the Republican ticket doesn’t have its tech groupies too. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and retired eBay CEO Meg Whitman are big supporters of McCain. But Conservative columnist David Brooks points out that tech executives donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party by a margin of 5-to-1.
And even though there are no polls to back it up, anecdotal evidence suggests most high tech workers heavily favor the Democratic ticket. The political leanings of technology companies and non-profit science organizations tend to reflect the more liberal constituencies where they are most heavily concentrated — the San Francisco Bay area, the Boston to Washington D.C corridor, Seattle, Austin, and the Research Triangle region of North Carolina. For example in Google’s backyard, Santa Clara County, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2-to-1. The numbers are probably even more pronounced within the tech community. The Wall Street Journal reports that, as of August 31, Google employees have contributed $487,355 to Obama’s campaign versus only $20,600 to McCain’s.
Computerworld provides an interesting breakdown of presidential support based on sales of Obama and McCain coffee cups at 7-Elevens in states with a lot of technology-based employment. According to the article:
In all the states that 7-Eleven has stores in, Obama coffee cups are picked 60% of the time. 7-Eleven said that the data, which involved about 6 million total cup sales in previous elections, has been close to actual election results. In 2004, the ratio of cups sold was 51% for George Bush and 49% for John Kerry.
For some time, there has been a general impression that Democrats are more technology-friendly than Republicans. In truth, Congressional Democrats and Republicans are both pro-technology, and generally vote as such. But during presidential campaigns, Republican rhetoric about rural towns as “the real America” and the general disparagement of big-city intellectuals tends to alienate the science and technology community. While it may be politically expedient for Republicans to sneer at urban dwellers as greedy bankers, morally-challenged lawyers, and liberally-biased journalists (hey!), techies are getting offended as well.
The fact that CEO Eric Schmidt, the 59th richest guy in the U.S., is willing to endorse Obama is a revealing counterpoint to the “Joe the Plumber” saga. In each case, the individuals are arguing against their immediate self-interest. If Obama gets his way, Schmidt’s personal taxes and the tax burden on his firm will surely rise, while Joe will enjoy a tax break (at least until he manages to buy that quarter million dollar plumbing business he’s been dreaming about). Rather than looking at the candidates through the lens of their economic self-interest, the CEO and the plumber are voting their culture.
Last November at Google headquarters, Obama proved he understands the high-tech crowd. In front of hundreds of employees and with Schmidt at his side, the Senator explained the role technology would play in his administration, including the creation of a national CTO that would centralize technology policy across federal agencies. At one point Schmidt asked him, jokingly, what would be the most efficient way to sort a million 32-bit integers. Without missing a beat, Obama replied “I think the bubble sort would be the wrong way to go.”
Towards the end of the Google discussion, in a response to an employee’s question, Obama summed up his view of how science relates to government policymaking. “I am a big believer in reason and facts and evidence and science and feedback — everything that allows you to do what you do — that’s what we should be doing in our government,” he said. “I want innovators and engineers and scientists like yourselves to help us make policy.” It’s hard to imagine McCain or Palin making such a statement.