Silicon Valley’s Politics: Liberal, With One Big Exception

But by the 1990s, with the advent of the World Wide Web and the beginning of the tech industry’s march to the apex of the world’s economy, another Silicon Valley political narrative took root: techies as unapologetic libertarians, for whom the best government is a nearly nonexistent one. You can see this strain in “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” the tech activist John Perry Barlow’s warning that the world’s governments enjoyed “no sovereignty” over the internet.

The idea that techies favor an Ayn Randian worldview hardened into a trope last year when the investor Peter Thiel, one of Silicon Valley’s few actual libertarians, parted with most others in tech to back Mr. Trump.

The Stanford study thoroughly debunks the idea that tech is lousy with libertarians. The researchers asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: “I would like to live in a society where government does nothing except provide national defense and police protection, so that people could be left alone to earn whatever they could.”

Fewer than a quarter of the tech elite agreed with that view. Democrats were almost twice as likely to agree, and Republicans agreed by huge margins.

But if they’re not libertarians, what accounts for techies’ opposition to regulation? One idea might be that it’s driven by self-interest. A large fraction said they opposed regulating car-sharing services as if they were taxis, for instance; to the extent that the tech elite have a lot of money riding on the sharing economy, they may worry that regulation of such companies could hurt their wallets.

Yet the survey also shows that tech elites are generally willing to support other policies that go against their interest. Huge majorities supported increasing spending on programs that only benefit the poorest Americans, as well as increasing taxes on people who earn more than $250,000 per year.

To tease out whether self-interest was at play in their views on regulation, surveyors asked a question about Uber’s surge-pricing policy, which increases prices during periods of peak demand. But the researchers disguised it with a business unrelated to tech: “On a holiday, when there is a great demand for flowers, sellers usually increase their prices. Do you think it is fair for them to raise their prices like this?”

A majority of Democrats and Republicans said it would be unfair for a florist to do that. But 96 percent of the tech elite thought it would be fair.

“My guess is there’s an underlying principle to their views,” Mr. Broockman said. “They see an entrepreneur trying to do what they want in the marketplace, and they see nothing unfair about that.”

The tech elite’s mix of views is unique; no other group in the survey favored both greater wealth redistribution and laxer regulation. It is genuinely difficult to think of any politician who aligns with that mix.

So I called up Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressman elected to represent a large swath of Silicon Valley last year. Like his constituents, Mr. Khanna supports redistributive economic policies. He’s working on a bill that calls for a $1 trillion expansion of the earned-income tax credit, and he supports opening up Medicare for anyone who wants it.

But Mr. Khanna is no opponent of regulation. He has favored greater enforcement of antitrust laws, and recently said he was “deeply worried” about Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods. When I asked him about the survey’s findings on techie views of labor unions, he was adamant that he didn’t share them.

“I’ve always been a very strong supporter of labor,” he said.

But the Stanford researchers suggest that over time, given technologists’ money and influence over media, they may have the power to subtly alter Democratic lawmakers’ views. Indeed, that may already be happening — already, the researchers said, the Democratic Party looks far less interested in curbing the tech industry’s reach than it once did.

Consider that President Bill Clinton’s Department of Justice waged a major war against Microsoft’s market power. Just a decade later, the next Democratic president, Barack Obama, took little interest in stemming tech giants’ growing clout.

“There’s one obvious difference between those time periods,” Mr. Malhotra said. “That difference is the rising influence of the technology industry in politics.”

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