Published October 26, 2010
You heard right: Big Tech leans left.
The November elections affect more than the fate of the country -- they could govern the price of your next laptop. Or, whether Facebook finally gets government scrutiny for its strange security policies. Does Microsoft favor looser restrictions on exports? If Apple sides with the Democrats, does that mean Cupertino can sell more laptops -- perhaps more in schools?
It's hard to pin Big Tech down -- many companies refused to state an explicit political agenda. But the general consensus is that the biggest tech companies tend to favor Democrats, a view supported by their actual political contributions. Microsoft, Facebook, Apple ... they all lean left, says Jim Taylor, a management consultant who writes about the business of psychology.
“They're dominated by coastal people who tend to be more liberal,” Taylor told FoxNews.com. “Also, those in Big Tech tend to be educated in the better schools, which lean left. Big Tech skews younger and hipper [and favors] social and environmental issues. Their political values trump financial concerns at the organizational culture level and the missions of many firms, especially those that are new media.”
The major tech corporations are concerned with a variety of issues, Taylor said, ranging from trade regulations and immigration for skilled workers to anything related to cyberlaws and cybercrime and, of course, net neutrality (which dictates whether some companies get special privileges on the Web).
And the data confirm the view that Big Tech leans left. Adam Bonica, a doctoral student studying politics at New York University, created an exhaustive chart that tracks the political contributions, committee involvement, and political action committee (PAC) donations of top companies. He analyzed the contributions of the board members for each of the top 20 major companies, including several key tech businesses.
Bonica's research revealed Apple and Google to be two of the most left-leaning companies among the Fortune 500 businesses he looked at. Intel also ranked left on the scale, while HP and Microsoft tended to be middle-of-the-road. None of the Big Tech companies rated as conservative. (Bonica pulled data from Transparency Data, which lists political contributions.)
For example, Marissa Mayer, known as “the face of Google,” gave $30,400 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2009. In fact, of the top 10 contributions made by Google in 2009, only one -- by CEO Eric Schmidt -- was to the Republican National Committee.
Facebook has donated almost exclusively to Democratic candidates, according to Transparency Data, including $1,000 to California Sen. Barbara Boxer a year ago and, more recently, almost $5,000 to Richard Blumenthal, who is running for senator in Connecticut.
Steve Ballmer donated $5,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as well, but other Microsoft donations show an even split between Democrats and Republicans.
However, according to data collected by Consumer Watchdog, a consumer and advocacy group, Google has made more financial contributions to Republicans lately than to Democrats. The company has contributed 55 percent to Republicans and 45 percent to Democrats.
“In terms of funding, Big Tech has always seemed to favor the Democrats,” Rob Enderle, a tech pundit with Enderle Group, told FoxNews.com. “However, in terms of freedoms, costs, and growth, you would think [they'd favor] the Republicans, who advocate less control, lower corporate taxes, and are typically more friendly to large companies."
"Ideologically, these firms just seem to like what Democrats say more -- but from a financial standpoint the Republicans represent a stronger profit opportunity,” Enderle said.
A house divided
Despite this evidence, Big Tech's political persuasion is hard to pin down. The executives and board members tend to sound like Democrats when they speak about issues such as Internet privacy and green tech -- but in reality their policies are staunchly conservative, said one expert.
Kevin McDonald, a vice president at tech firm Alvaka and a security expert, told FoxNews.com that he's dealt with Big Tech for several years, and in private conversations and in terms of their actual policies, the companies tend to favor conservative positions, he said, though most don't actually back policies or fund security measures that help make those positions a reality.
“Steve Jobs is Democratic-leaning based on who he gives money to and what he says. And Jobs has never let it be known how he votes, but he supports Democratic causes and has contributed about $225,000 to Democrats since the 1980s,” McDonald told FoxNews.com. While Jobs may appear Democratic, Apple's policies are simpler, he said: "They promote what's going to make them the most money.”
And for what it's worth, former Vice President Al Gore is also on the Apple board http://www.apple.com/pr/bios/gore.html.
When directly confronted, Big Tech played coy about its politics. We asked the question, "Does an outcome of Democrat or Republican control of Congress benefit your company in terms of cyberlaws, immigration and other issues facing the tech industry? How so?"
Facebook, Yahoo!, Microsoft and HP all said “no comment” or did not respond to requests for an interview. FoxNews.com also checked in with several cellular phone companies and computer makers, none of which chose to reply.
Only Sprint and Google provided a terse response to the basic question of political preference, essentially stating their independence -- and support for both political parties.
“The issues we are concerned with don't break on partisan lines, few tech issues do,” John Taylor, a spokesman for Sprint, told FoxNews.com. “We support a variety of candidates who range across the political spectrum.”
“Technology isn't a partisan issue,” agreed Mistique Cano, a Google spokeswoman. “We've believed for a long time that it's important to build relationships on both sides of the aisle.”
In the end, Taylor says “whoever is in charge” of Congress will likely try to help Big Tech grow and will support its efforts. But if ideology trumps financial incentives, and if the data collected concerning actual contributions bears out, Big Tech will probably continuing leaning left.