So Far, Presidential Candidates Mostly Disappoint on Tech Issues

By Bradley Tusk  |  March 23, 2016

Not that you’d know it by listening to the candidates, but the only way the next President is going to truly spur growth and create new jobs is by doing everything possible to take advantage of new types of tech-based efficiency and accelerate the tech sector. Whether it’s immigration, the on-demand economy, STEM education, patent reform, net neutrality, broadband access or so many other issues, the next President has the chance to either help the U.S. increase its lead around innovation or watch our country fall further back into a morass of bad policies and failed programs.

Working with Engine, a tech policy organization, my company Tusk Ventures looked at where each of the candidates stands on these issues. So how did they do? Not so great.

Nobody received straight A’s, but Secretary Clinton topped the list with a B+ and Donald Trump came in last with an F.

Clinton deserves praise for her strong support of net neutrality, broadband access and STEM education, but like many of her peers—and to our disappointment—she’s yet to offer clear positions on several of the most pressing issues for tech, like worker classification and encryption. It says a lot about this group when someone who merely speaks in positive (and arguably logical) terms about tech issues (without having actually done anything) puts her at the top of the class. Those of us who believe in the economic importance of the “sharing economy” remain worried about Clinton’s willingness to buck her donors and support its growth.

Clinton’s rival, Senator Sanders, received a top grade for his ambitious plan to expand broadband access in the U.S., but got a D+ for his opposition to H-1B visas for high-skilled workers. Beyond that, his vision for the economy seems based in fantasy.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump has yet to announce any real policy agenda or offer substantive comments on a number of issues. He has, however, called for a boycott of Apple and attacked net neutrality as an attempt by President Obama to control conservative media (which is odd, since true conservatives and libertarians dislike big monopolies). Other than Ted Cruz’s staunch opposition to domestic surveillance programs, he struck out on almost every other tech issue. Cruz did once refer to himself as the “Uber of Washington, D.C.”, presumably referring to the fact that “Uber” has become synonymous with “disruptor”. Of course, Uber also offers a lot more than just disruption, while being contrary is pretty much all Cruz has to offer. John Kasich was in the middle of the pack. He has yet to offer comments on net neutrality, patent reform or high-skilled immigration, which leaves room to win tech support without thus far offering much reassurance.

As he slowly fades into history, the tech industry may have lost an ally in Senator Rubio. He consistently made STEM education a priority during his time as Senator and even discussed the importance of the emerging on-demand economy on the campaign trail. Rubio and Clinton have been the only ones to mention the worker classification issue—although Sanders once said he has “serious issues with Uber”.

The results of our report card are troubling. They highlight the lack of understanding and attention being paid to issues that will matter tremendously in our economy over the next several decades. Our candidates are little more than 21st century politicians with 20th century mindsets. That Is profoundly disconcerting.

So what happens now? If we want the candidates to take tech issues seriously, we have to make them do it. That means not donating money unless they’re willing to speak up on our issues. It means holding them publicly accountable for both what they say and don’t say. It means using our platforms to put these issues at the forefront, whether their campaign strategists and pollsters like it or not.

Now is the time to push candidates to go on the record about these issues. While Facebook, YouTube and Google have all participated in the debates, the number of questions related to Internet and technology issues have been embarrassingly few. We should certainly demand better than this.

There is a massive opportunity for a candidate to go on the record and champion policies that will help startups grow and thrive. I hope someone takes it.

Tusk Ventures jointly conducted the position research with Engine, a research and advocacy group for startups. Bradley Tusk runs Tusk Ventures, the venture arm of his political strategy consulting firm Tusk Strategies, which advises regulated tech companies including Uber, FanDuel, and Handy.

The above appeared on Techonomy.com on March, 23 2016.