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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Hip young talent just doesn’t vibe with GOP

With the 2016 presidential election a year away, the campaign season is in full swing. The news is filled with headlines about who “won” each debate, which candidates are leading in the polls and what slip-up statement each candidate is trying to recover from.

Everyone from Anderson Cooper to your great-aunt Carol is talking about the election.

But something no one seems to be talking about is the candidates’ relationship to the tech industry, and that’s something we should definitely be talking about.

The tech industry is booming. With more than 80 startups valued at over $1 billion and thousands of Americans employed in the field, it’s no surprise that Silicon Valley has become the hot new spot for presidential hopefuls to drop by and take a photo or two.

Jeb Bush hopped in an Uber and visited Thumbtack, a startup connecting service providers to customers. Hillary Clinton hosted a discussion with group of entrepreneurs at the headquarters of food-delivery startup Munchery. Marco Rubio spoke at 1871, a tech incubator.

While both political parties are taking part in this “tech-tour,” only one has been met with a warm welcome. The tech world is full of young, left-leaning engineers and entrepreneurs. The reality of the industry is that the majority of Americans working in tech are Democrats.

For example, when Bush requested to stop at Thumbtack, the company’s CEO was confused. He noted in an interview with Wired that out of his 130 employees, “zero to one” would vote for Bush.

They agreed to the stop, not because they supported Bush’s campaign, but because they would get free publicity and exposure.

This is a huge problem for the GOP. On the surface, it doesn’t look like an election-losing problem. So a bunch of programmers in the Valley don’t vote Republican, who cares? There are plenty of other voters in America.

The GOP’s real problem is that it isn’t able to hire any of the country’s top liberal tech talent. Why would they “sell their souls” and work for the political party they oppose, where it would be their job to do everything in their power to get a candidate elected that they wouldn’t even vote for?

Most people might imagine that a campaign’s tech team is there to create a website for the candidate, maybe build an app or two. In reality, the team’s role is much more critical to the campaign.

Data scientists and programmers come together to analyze data from across the Internet, allowing them to determine things like what demographic the campaign should target, which TV ad got the best response and where the next campaign stop should be.

In 2012, the importance of a campaign’s tech talent played out in real time. Mitt Romney’s campaign built a tool called ORCA, designed to automatically target expected voters who hadn’t been to the polls yet, and call them to encourage them to go vote.

Unfortunately, ORCA crashed and burned on Election Day, while Barack Obama’s campaign voter-targeting tool worked without a hitch.

This disparity is often cited as a key factor in Obama’s victory, and was caused by the Obama team’s emphasis on recruitment of top tech talent more than Romney’s campaign.

In the end, Romney had a lackluster team and broken software, while Obama had an all-star team, a working tool and a second term.

So has anything changed since the last election? Not at all.

Clinton called in the victorious team from Obama’s 2012 campaign and brought in heavy hitter and former Googler Stephanie Hannon to lead the charge.

Meanwhile, Scott Walker had the most promising tech team of the Republican Party—until he dropped out of the race.

None of the other GOP candidates have a team that can even come close to Clinton’s.

Nothing has changed in this tech battle because nothing has changed in the two parties. The Republican Party still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Millennials and, unfortunately for the GOP, those Millennials are exactly the people it needs to hire if it wants to catch up to the Democrats before Election Day.

The liberal world of tech just doesn’t align with the conservative ideals of the GOP. And when even promises of good pay aren’t enough to bring liberal tech talent to the dark side, the Republican Party is in a tough spot.

Sorry Jeb, but taking rides in an Uber and dropping by hot startups isn’t enough to convince the tech world that you’re on its side.

But it does show that you’re scared—and you should be. It will take a fundamental shift in the GOP to win over the Valley, and without its support, the Republican candidates are competing with one hand tied behind their backs.


Follow Graham Place on Twitter.


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