How the US elections could alter the trajectory of Silicon Valley

By Sooraj Shah
06 Nov 2012 View Comments

As the US presidential election gathers pace, Silicon Valley looks on anxiously to see what effect more than 100 million American votes will make to the technology industry.

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But with President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney nearing the end of their campaigns with little said about technology, some Silicon Valley veterans are wondering whether either candidate knows much about the sector.

"Here in the Valley, most of us think politicians do not really understand what we do. They come here, do fundraisers and go back to Washington," renowned industry veteran Jean-Louis Gassée told Computing.

Gassée built up HP in Europe before joining Apple in 1981 and was eventually appointed as Steve Jobs' successor as head of Macintosh development.

But while Gassée suggests many in Silicon Valley do not believe the result of the election really matters, other technology chiefs and vendors have pledged money and support for one of the candidates.

According to transparency advocate and research firm Center for Responsive Politics, Obama's top enterprise contributors are Microsoft and Google, who have both contributed more than $700,000 (£438,211) each. Meanwhile, none of Romney's top five contributors is a technology vendor.

It is worth noting that major corporations themselves do not donate but rather donations are made by organisations' political actions committees, their individual members or employees or owners, and those individuals' immediate families.

Meanwhile, tech executives who are supporting President Obama in a "Tech for Obama (T4O)" campaign have appeared in a series of YouTube videos stating why they are lending their support to the incumbent.

"He's had an open ear and spoken a lot with tech entrepreneurs and created venues where we can talk about the things to keep the country competitive," CEO and co-founder of Dropbox, Drew Houston, said in one of the videos.

In another video, LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman states: "I support Obama because I've personally seen how much he cares about innovation and how much he cares about constructing the future that we all want to have."

Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer is also reported to be a supporter of the current President as is CEO Marc Benioff, while Romney's supporters include HP CEO Meg Whitman and Cisco's John Chambers.

"The reason why tech executives are backing Obama is because of immigration, education, having a pro-tech view of the CTO and CIO roles in government, for wanting to invest in R&D and for frankly just understanding how technology works," claims Ovum analyst Carter Lusher.

He adds that personal interests could be a big reason why some Silicon Valley chiefs are backing Romney.

"For example, Whitman used to work for Romney [on his national finance team in 2008], so I wonder if it's just loyalty there because of the past relationship. Clearly several execs are disappointed with the idea that the Obama administration would raise the taxes of the wealthy – something Romney claims he won't, so it may be in their personal interests," says Lusher.

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