LOS ANGELES (CIRCA) - The 2018 midterm elections, in many American voters’ minds, will be a referendum on President Donald Trump. And it’ll be hard to find anywhere in the country where that sentiment is more true, and more stacked against Trump, than in Silicon Valley, says tech politics journalist and researcher Greg Ferenstein.
"The most important thing to Silicon Valley is also the most important thing to the Democratic Party, and that is getting a majority in the House, which will effectively stop the president’s agenda," he explained.
Ferenstein has studied the politics of those living and working in the heart of the country’s tech sector for a number of years, finding a unique mix of Democrat-like social liberalism and traditional Republican-like business-friendly deregulation. He says the feeling in Silicon Valley about what’s at stake in 2018 is a chance to stop Trump and his Republican majority in Congress from continuing to threaten both sides of its political sensibilities.
"The president has come out in a number of ways against the Valley," Ferenstein said. "First, on immigration: A lot of immigrants feel uncomfortable coming to the country. International enrollment in universities are down, which hurts the talent pipeline."
The type of large advocacy projects that Ferenstein says tech companies like Google are undertaking to address income inequality, traditionally a Democratic Party issue, won't get much attention while the Republicans hold control of Congress, either.
And on the business side, some of the industry's only common ground with the Trump administration has been traveled already: last year's Republican tax cuts. So, that leaves vague threats of antitrust action by the president against Amazon, Google and Facebook and a trade war with China (which particularly terrifies Apple), all of which Silicon Valley could do without.
“I won’t comment on the breaking up [of Google], of whether it’s that or Amazon or Facebook ... As you know, many people think it is a very antitrust situation, the three of them. But I just, I won’t comment on that.”
Ferenstein says there’s also concern that, amid the hysteria surrounding high-profile data leaks from services like Facebook and Google, a half-baked consumer privacy regulation could too easily get pushed through Congress and onto Trump’s desk for signing in the next two years if the Republicans are to hold onto their current majority.
"People haven't fleshed out exactly how to do [consumer privacy regulation]. So, when you have a massive public pressure to do something, and people don't know what to do, chances are it's going to be done poorly," he said.
"If the Democrats win, and they cause even further gridlock in Congress, it'll maybe give time to think about how laws should actually be shaped."
So, turning over control of the House is more in play for Democrats than the Senate, but that hasn't stopped Silicon Valley employees from throwing money at Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic representative challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's seat in Texas. Ferenstein says the Valley's interest in that race is more about the high profile of the campaign than any particular issues affecting the tech sector.
"Ted Cruz is an arch-conservative, anti-liberal on the main stage, and the idea that you could unseat him (in) the heart of conservatism, in Texas, is very appealing to activist liberals," Ferenstein explained. "Many of those [in the Bay Area] have enough disposable income, because they work at rich tech companies, to individually ... fund the opposition campaign."