While the tech industry has recently taken credit for taking progressive stances on key social issues, a new survey shows that the political views of Silicon Valley's most influential players are not as clear-cut as they may appear—with many showing hostility to the rights of workers and and taking a dim view of government's oversight role.
While wealthy tech executives have loudly condemned racism and showed strong support for issues like marriage equality, universal healthcare, and the at-risk Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, researchers have found those in the top levels of the industry also harbor strong anti-regulation and anti-union sentiments.
In the first comprehensive study of political views in the increasingly powerful industry, Stanford University researchers compared the political opinions of more than 600 wealthy technologists to those of Democratic and Republican donors and voters.
Seventy-four percent of the tech executives said they would like to see labor unions' influence decrease, while only 33 percent of Democratic voters and 18 percent of donors agreed with this—"making technology entrepreneurs most similar to extremely anti-union Republican donors" on the issue of labor.
Tech leaders also reported hostility toward government regulation of business and products including drones, self-driving cars, and tech companies. "They are also much more likely to believe that government regulation of business does more harm than good," said Stanford's report, noting that 70 percent of tech entrepreneurs say the government should not regulate Uber as it does taxis—a clear anti-worker position.
The study's authors say their findings "add nuance to our understanding of how rising income inequality will impact American politics." As socially liberal tech entrepreneurs become wealthier, the Democratic Party is sure to take notice, with tech firms gaining influence by way of ever-larger campaign contributions.
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"At the same time," the report says, "technology entrepreneurs' hostility to government regulation, especially of labor markets, and their extremely negative views towards unions appear likely to lead to high-profile conflicts within the Democratic Party coalition going forward. Theories of political development predict that as a powerful group gains influence within a party it can steer party ideologies and platforms toward its policy views and priorities."
In other words, the tech industry's views on unions and regulation could have the effect of pushing the Democratic Party further to the right.
Meanwhile, technologists' progressive views on social issues tend to fall in line with popular opinion. Silicon Valley was applauded for criticizing President Donald Trump after he said he would ban transgender Americans from serving in the military, siding with 68 percent of Americans who said transgender people should be allowed to serve. The industry also spoke out in support for DACA this week, joining 58 percent of Americans who oppose Trump's rollback of the law.
Stanford's survey comes as some progressives are raising alarms about Silicon Valley's increasingly consolidated wealth and its heightened power in Washington. Former Labor Secretary and author Robert Reich wrote on Tuesday about Google's outsized financial and political power, and the recent controversy that put both on display. Reich compared Google's link to the firing of a New America Foundation fellow who praised the European Commission's decision to fine Google for violating antitrust rules, with the president's history of suppressing his critics while consolidating his power.
"Consider Donald J. Trump," wrote Reich. "It may seem odd to mention Trump at the same time I'm talking about Google. Google's executives tend to be on the left. Eric Schmidt [the executive chairman of Google's parent company] was a major backer of Hillary Clinton. But power is power, and Trump has demonstrated a similar tendency to throw his ever-expanding weight around. Like Google, he doesn't particularly like to be criticized, if you hadn't noticed....Whether it's a giant left-leaning corporation or an unhinged alt-right president, the underlying problem is the same. It imperils our democracy and breeds distrust in our system. Such abuse of power is morally wrong."