Since the inauguration of the Trump administration, the titans of Silicon Valley and other tech entrepreneurs have repeatedly clashed with President Donald Trump. They have criticized his executive order limiting immigration from Muslim countries, for instance, as well as the elimination of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. A new study produced by Stanford University political scientists shows that the tech giants consistently lean toward the Democratic party but with one glaring exception.
Presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, the study shows that tech companies may push Democrats and others further to the left on both social and economic issues. Paradoxically, however, those same tech giants seek to undermine labor unions, and other stalwart supporters of the traditional Democratic party.
Tech entrepreneurs are among the most leftist of Democrats They are globalist, cosmopolitan, free-traders who favor open borders, who overwhelmingly favor economic policies that redistribute wealth, including higher taxes on the wealthy. They also favor social services for the poor, including universal health care.
However, while they apparently do not mind taxes so much, they do resent government meddling in their business. Less than 25 percent identity with libertarian principles, while nearly two thirds agree that “the government should not tightly regulate business, and should tax the wealthy to fund social programs.” This position puts them outside both the Democratic and Republican parties.
On social issues, they are pro-abortion, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, and oppose the death penalty. But when it comes to a pocket-book issue, tech entrepreneurs deviate from the reigning orthodoxy of Democrats and heel toward Republicans. Deeply suspicious of government regulation of business, they are especially incensed about labor regulations. Government makes firing employees too difficult, the respondents believe, while they believe government should make firing employees easier. They also want to see the decline of both private and public-sector unions.
The study was conducted by David Broockman and Neil Malhotra of Stanford University, and Greg F. Ferenstein, a journalist who worked on an initial version of the survey in 2015. The researchers examined the “elites” of the tech industry: millionaire and billionaire founders and executives who are in turn influencers in politics. Conducted in February, the study surveyed 600 of these tech titans, while the researchers also surveyed Democratic and Republican donors and voters for comparisons.
Tech titans don't mind higher taxes
The Stanford study may debunk the notion that the tech field is full of libertarians. Respondents were asked whether they agreed with the following statement: “I would like to live in a society where government does nothing except provide national defense and police protection, so that people could be left alone to earn whatever they could.” Less than 25 percent agreed with that view. Democrats, however, were twice as likely to agree, while Republicans agreed by much wider margins.
Those surveyed appear to support policies that appear to go against their interests. Huge numbers support increased funding for programs to benefit the poorest of America, and also favor increased taxes on people earning $250,000 or more per year. On the other hand, a large fraction are opposed to the regulation of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft. Being invested in these companies, a theory goes, may make them worry that regulating them will hurt their bottom line.
To find out if self-interest is involved in tech entrepreneurs’ position on regulation, researchers asked about Uber’s surge-pricing policy, which increases prices during periods of peak demand. Researchers asked, “On a holiday, when there is a great demand for flowers, sellers usually increase their prices. Do you think it is fair for them to raise their prices like this?” While a majority of Democrats and Republicans said it a price hike would be unfair, 96 percent of the tech elite thought it would be fair.
No other group in the study favored both greater redistribution of wealth and relaxed regulation. Few politicians appear to represent that combination. However, that may change. The researchers believe that in time, wealthy and influential techies have the power to influence Democrat politicians. Accordingly, the researchers suggest that the Democratic party is much less apt to regulate the tech industry than it did at one time. While the Justice Department went on the warpath against Microsoft during the Clinton administration, the Obama administration had little interest in addressing tech companies growing influence.
But the Stanford researchers suggest that over time, given technologists’ money and influence over media, they may have the power to subtly alter Democratic lawmakers’ views. Indeed, that may already be happening — already, the researchers said, the Democratic Party looks far less interested in curbing the tech industry’s reach than it once did.
Consider that President Bill Clinton’s Department of Justice waged a major war against Microsoft’s market power. Just a decade later, the next Democratic president, Barack Obama, took little interest in stemming tech giants’ growing clout. The study noted that “In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton won San Mateo and Santa Clara counties in California, home to Facebook, Google, and Apple, by overwhelming 57 and 52 percentage point margins, respectively, relative to a national margin of two percentage points.”
An abstract of “Wealthy Elites’ Policy Preferences and Economic Inequality: The Case of Technology Entrepreneurs” is below:
"If wealthy businesspeople reliably support policies in their material self-interest, they can be expected to use their tremendous political influence to exacerbate inequality. We argue business elites in an industry can share distinctive values and predispositions which can override their self-interest. We demonstrate our argument with technology entrepreneurs, business elites with increasing wealth and political influence but who overwhelmingly support Democrats. To understand this puzzle, we conducted original surveys of elite technology entrepreneurs, elite partisan donors, and the public.
"We show that technology entrepreneurs’ predispositions toward racial tolerance, non-authoritarianism, and cosmopolitanism align them with Democrats in supporting liberal redistributive, social, and globalistic policies. However, they generally oppose regulation—but also for reasons that extend beyond self-interest alone. Our findings provide a rare window into a wealthy elite’s views that is both theoretically rich and politically relevant, providing nuance to expectations about the interplay between economic and political inequality."