Three questions for tech after the New Hampshire primary
Yang out. Warren sinks. Klobuchar rises. What does it all mean?
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg came out on top of the New Hampshire primary Tuesday. But the big story for tech is how a few of the most outspoken candidates on the industry have suddenly seen their fortunes change.
Andrew Yang dropped out of the race, Sen. Amy Klobuchar surprised with a third-place finish. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's prospects appear to be dimming as she finished a distant fourth. What does it all mean for tech?
Can Yang's ideas live on beyond his campaign?
Throughout his campaign, Yang took a far less confrontational approach to the tech industry than his fellow candidates, including Warren. Yang, a technologist himself, acknowledged that automation posed an existential threat to American jobs and bank accounts. But rather than fight for a breakup of big tech, he argued that the government should help Americans deal with this new industrial revolution by putting, as he put it, "straight cash" into their pockets, in the form of a $1,000 monthly stipend.
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Yang is single-handedly responsible for pushing the idea of a universal basic income — once a fringe obsession for techies like Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and Tesla CEO Elon Musk — into the mainstream political discourse. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that idea caught on with tech workers, who, in the last quarter of 2019, donated more to his campaign than to any other candidate, except Sanders.
So, what will happen to those ideas now that Yang is out? Voters are unlikely to hear more about a universal basic income from the remaining presidential candidates (at least, not from the frontrunners. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard supports the idea). But Sanders has proposed a federal jobs guarantee, arguing that the meaning people get from a job is at least as important as a guaranteed paycheck. "We cannot allow robotics technology, artificial intelligence to simply throw people out on the street," he told The Hill last year. Warren, meanwhile, has said that a universal basic income is an "option to consider," but favors raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour first.
That doesn't mean the concept of a universal basic income is bound for the dustbin of history. Pilot programs are already taking place or being considered in places like Stockton and Santa Clara County. Meanwhile, the group Income Movement is launching a plan to give $1,000 a month to one person in all 50 states. Yet, it still seems unlikely that these one-off projects will be taken up at the national level any time soon. According to one recent Gallup poll, the majority of Americans still oppose the idea.
What does Klobuchar think about tech?
Klobuchar kicked off her campaign in a Minneapolis snow squall last February with a shot across Silicon Valley's bow. "For too long, the big tech companies have been telling you 'Don't worry! We've got your back!' while your identities are being stolen and your data is mined," the Minnesota senator said.
It seemed yet one more sign of the rupture in tech companies' once strong bond with Democrats. But Klobuchar also has a reputation as a pragmatist Silicon Valley can work with and hasn't alienated the tech industry the way some of her Democratic rivals have.
Klobuchar has a credible claim to being the Democratic candidate with the deepest policy expertise on tech issues. As the top Democrat on the Senate antitrust committee, she has introduced or co-sponsored a raft of bills aimed at reining in Silicon Valley's tech giants, including bills pushing tougher privacy rules, limits on political advertising, and rules aimed at making it more difficult for big tech companies to acquire smaller ones.
Most notably, perhaps, she introduced the Honest Ads Act in response to Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, which aimed to force Facebook and other companies to disclose the money behind political ads.
Klobuchar is known to be friendly to senators across the aisle, frequently introducing bills with Republican co-sponsors, as well as to executives in the tech industry. She has a good relationship with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and is profiled on Sandberg's website for Lean In. Sandberg, in turn, wrote a blurb for Klobuchar's 2015 memoir, in which she said the senator's story "radiates with warmth, humor, and candor."
What happens to Warren's supporters?
Warren has been by far the most outspoken critic of tech in the race. In 2019, she vowed to crack down on companies in a Medium post titled "Here's How We Can Break Up Big Tech." She laid out a plan to unwind past mergers and prohibit companies like Amazon from selling products on the marketplaces they also own.
The proposal set the tone for the entire Democratic field, forcing all of Warren's fellow candidates to take a stand on breaking up big tech companies — or not. Warren's plan so threatened tech giants that, according to leaked audio obtained by The Verge, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees at an internal meeting last year that if Warren were elected, Facebook might end up suing the government to block her proposals.All that didn't stop Silicon Valley workers from pouring money into Warren's campaign (that's despite Warren's pledge not to take money from big tech executives). As Warren's star fades, the question remains: Who will her techie supporters back now? Sanders seems a likely option, not just because many of his policy proposals mirror Warren's, but also because he was already the most favored candidate among tech workers in the last quarter of 2019.