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In Silicon Valley, Technology Talent Gap Threatens G.O.P. Campaigns (fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com)
51 points by Flemlord 1697 days ago | hide | past | web | 68 comments | favorite

In my opinion, this technology gap will exist as long as the Republican party embraces social conservatism to the point of scientific ignorance.

Consider Todd Akin’s comment: "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to just shut that whole thing down." While "legitimate rape" ended up being the colloquial reference that got hammered, what was so utterly offensive was the second part of the sentence. Implying the female body had some sort of magical spermicide. It's not just insensitive, it's scientifically ignorant. There are a lot of reasons why almost 2/3 of college students and recent college grads voted for Obama, and one of them is because of this complete idiocy that Republicans spew.

At the "Family Values Summit" earlier this year, Rick Santorum said, "We're never going to be the party of smart people." If you’re not the smart party, what are you? The party that claims the HPV vaccine causes retardation? The party that considers evolution a myth? Sure, but then you won't be the party with constituents that embrace science and technology.

Sure, they can throw money at the problem. Even if they intellectually objected with the platform, lots of engineers would work for the Republican party if they paid enough. But successful political campaigns are all about connecting a widespread media message to the individual visceral feelings of voters. If your staff has no idea who that voter is because they aren't actually one of them, then you're not going to have the same quality of campaign.

I don't think all is lost for the Republican party. For an example off the top of my head, it would be very easy to philosophically adjust their stances on "economic freedom" to support reforms to copyright and patent law. But until then, Rick Santorum is right. They won't be the party of smart people. Which means they won't be the party that has smart technology talent helping them run campaigns.

I don't think it helps the Republicans that many of the young, tech-savvy people today came of age in the Bush years. I still remember from when I was 13/14 wondering why we were pushing to go to war with Iraq when it had nothing to do with 9/11 etc. Hear the narrative change over the years - WMDs, then terrorism, then freedom - caused me to develop a strong dislike of what struck me as a party of liars.

I think the moment that epitomized the problems with the Republicans was on election night a few weeks ago, when Fox's own statisticians and analysts were ready to call Ohio for Obama, and Rove refused to accept it. That's them in a nutshell - a refusal to deal with reality. Such an attitude doesn't mesh too well with a scientific/technological approach to things.

You're ascribing things to the whole GOP that are just examples of its outlier (and loser) candidates. While they each have followings, both Akin and Santorum are far from the average or median GOP candidate/officeholder. And using Akin's ignorance as an example of anything that "Republicans spew" is especially unfair: not only did his party widely condemn him afterward, but even beforehand I doubt you'd find any prominent GOPers believing that 'rape pregnancy immunity' theory – it was an Akin peculiarity, not a representative belief.

However, the current GOP may be doomed by such fuzzy perceptions and slurs. Most media is overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Dem party, and so even when consciously trying to be fair, they're prone to oversimplifying the GOP based on caricatures and headline-grabbing outliers. Actual strongly-partisan Dem campaigners are happy to assist this process.

Among other things, this is an example of "Out-group homogeneity bias" – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Out-group_homogeneity – the idea that among 'us' there's variety but 'they' tend to be all alike. Highlighting outliers in key negative dimensions (like Akin and Santorum) as if they were representative, central examples of the whole category is part of that biased process.

You don't get to say they are "Outliers" when Santorum wins 11 (I think that was the number?) Republican presidential primaries. When audiences at those primaries boo gay soldiers. When their candidate wants to get rid of planned parenthood.

A major party's senate candidate is an "outlier" ???/ You'd be hard pressed to find anyone this nuts on the left.

Half of the Repubs members of the congressional committee on science don't believe in evolution. The moderates who you refer to have left: Richard Lugar, Arlen Spector etc., haven't you noticed they've been cast out of the party/defeated in primaries.

Frankly, the media is too "fair." Not all opinions deserve to be treated equally. If media is sympathetic to the Democratic party it's because ours is a party based on reason, evidence and logic, not 2,000 year old myths.

Winning only 11 primaries, compared to 42 won by the nominee, is evidence of a regional/minority-factional 'outlier' candidacy. (And even for those wins, Santorum needed the 'anybody but Romney' dynamic: it was far from broad GOP love for Santorum. Though if you're suffering from the out-group bias I mentioned, it might look that way.)

And yes, a major party's Senate candidate can be an 'outlier'.

In the US, the parties don't pick the candidates, voters do through primaries. Only 36% of Missouri Republican primary voters gave Akin a slim plurality in a no-runoff 3-way primary. Two other candidates in that primary, each with a broader base of national Republican support, got a combined 59% of the GOP vote. So Akin is even somewhat of an outlier in his home, conservative Missouri GOP.

An bigger outlier was the 'major party' Democratic Senate candidate in Tennessee, Mark Clayton:


Still, Clayton won the primary and got to run as the Democrat, over the protests of the state party, because that's how the system works. A plurality of voters who show up in low-turnout, often unrepresentative primaries pick the candidates, not the parties.

Yes, the GOP has lost a bunch of its moderate candidates, and that's a problem for the GOP and the country. The causes are both internal GOP malfunctions, and the portrayal-biases I've been mentioning from the media and casual poltical observers. (The moderates rarely get their due respect/coverage as equal Republicans, the Republicans don't get due recognition of their internal diversity. So the breadth of the party has decayed compared to the past, before year-round cable-news/internet politi-tainment narrowed and hardened the party identities.)

bullshit. I don't care how many primaries Romney won, 11 is a lot. And the fact that the one logical candidate in the race (as much as I dislike him), who was the least bit moderate, even evoked that "anyone but Romney" feeling only proves my point. The fact that people thought that crazy was better than Romney only proves my point.

And the fact that Romney had to tack so far to the right to even win the nomination proves my point yet again.

Look at polls: way too many Republicans believe stupid things like Obama is Muslim, he wasn't born in this country etc..

It's funny, I was going to bring up Mark Clayton as an example of a real outlier: the party completely ignored him (not this Akin stuff, Huckabee supported him, then the SuperPacs poured money in at the last minute when it had cooled down), it was in a state that Democrats have low turnout in since they have no chance of winning anyway, so an idiot managed to make himself the nominee. Every once in a while these things happen, yes, but over the past few years you guys have elected as your candidates Christine O'Donnell ('I'm not a witch'), the legion of legitimate rape morons, and a bunch of other memorable idiots like Bachmann who accused a Clinton staffer of being a highly placed Muslim Brotherhood operative.

You purge your party of anyone who says anything remotely conciliatory or logical/moderate.

If you were talking about one state rep, or even one senator, you would have a point. But the numerous crazies and the fact that you considered people like Bachmann and Santorum legitimate contenders for the presidency does not give you the right to call the crazies the "outliers" in your party: the inmates are now running the asylum.

Interjections like 'bullshit' are not convincing. Your fondness for derogatory labels ('idiots', 'morons', 'crazies') and personalizing hyperbolic allegations (like "you purge your party of anyone who says anything remotely conciliatory or logical/moderate") suggest you have strong, fixed, partisan, emotional feelings about this which make further discussion unproductive.

Sure, some of those are outliers, but they're merely the most outrageous outliers from already quite right-wing "mainstream conservative" positions. I've been observing Republicans fairly closely for a while, because I first started voting in a rather GOP-heavy district of Texas (southeast Houston), so in some cases voting in the GOP primary was the only way to have any impact at all, by voting for the more-moderate candidate. And the people I've seen are, by and large, shockingly unacceptable. When I was in high school (late 1990s), they opposed repealing Texas's anti-sodomy laws, which made it a criminal offense to engage in "immoral" sex. We're not talking about same-sex marriage here, but about actually being arrested for having sex in one's own house. When that law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003, the state GOP was outraged, and put into its platform a condemnation of "activist judges" and the "homosexual agenda", and a demand that homosexuality be somehow re-criminalized. Not just a few fringe representatives: that was the consensus position of the statewide party. That specific demand was finally voted out of the platform just this year, in 2012, though my own local congressman (TX-36) still speaks darkly of "homosexuals" more often than you might think necessary, along with "anchor babies" for good measure. I don't see how I could possibly find that kind of rhetoric appealing.

As far as rape goes, what was sort of surprising is that Akin wasn't even the only outlier among Senate candidates in this election alone in having a "rape-comment scandal": Mourdock in IN also somehow found it necessary to mention that pregnancy from rape is a "gift from God".

Well, that's Texas. (I grew up in northeast Houston.) These 'unappealing' candidates are reliably winning there, so it's hard to say they're not locally appropriate, on (small-d) democratic principles. And even the (big-D) Democrats are more conservative in such places, steering clear of gay/abortion rights. For example, you mention Mourdock in IN. He lost to a pro-life, anti-gay-marriage Democrat who'd co-sponsored a bill that included the same extra 'forcible' qualifier about rapes that GOPers are attacked about.

Also, all "rape-comment scandals" are not alike. (Fuzzing them together is again deploying 'out-group homogeneity bias' for partisan electoral advantage.) Mourdock's gaffe was clumsy, but a genuine attempt at expressing a philosophically consistent position, common among religiously-motivated abortion opponents, that follows naturally from the idea that all life is a supernatural gift, and all abortion an unjust taking of a life. (I've heard strongly pro-choice people say they respect this position, for its consistency, more than the 'convenient, popular exceptions' pro-life position.)

If Mourdock had said it more artfully -- for example keeping the words 'rape' and 'something god intended' much further apart -- many voters may still have disagreed with his 'no exceptions' approach but it would have been a lot harder to tarnish him with Akin-like ignorance and insensitivity. (Harder, but not impossible: more than ever before partisans and 'outrage farmers' selectively quote and rearrange statements to make them maximally-inflammatory before reporting, to score quick points before the full original context is known.)

Even your word choice that Mourdock "found it necessary to mention" this makes it seem like he was going out of his way to inflame. If you watch the clip yourself -- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgDgub8X6DQ -- I think it's pretty clear he was struggling with a dicey issue (especially for those who believe in a 'good' and omnipotent diety who allows evil to happen), and trying to be responsive to a direct question during a debate. And his reward for being honest and engaging (but unpracticed on the exact word choice)? Being lumped together with ignorant Akin, forever.

Republicans don't believe in evolution, Democrats don't believe in the danger of the NDAA.

Toss a coin.

In case anybody doesn't know what the NDAA is, it is the law that allows any person (US citizen or not) to be incarcerated for an unlimited duration (including until death) without being charged with any crime or wrongdoing.

The euphemism used to name this piece of legislation is the National Defense Authorization Act.


Republicans and Democrats voted almost in equal measure for the NDAA, and I agree, I don't like it one bit. I remember a few people from each party stood up, and being honest here the only notable person I remember was Rand Paul, so I give a little credit there, but very very little since most of his party still voted for it as I remember.

It was the democratic candidate in this election who signed it into law.


This true up to a point. Intelligent people go to college, and in addition to technical education they are getting other stuff as well. I'd hope it's not too controversial to posit that (a) most university humanities cultures are more similar to Harvard than West Point, and (b) it is obvious that Harvard's math dept. teaches objective truth, and not so much for Harvard's history dept.

Many, perhaps most students care primarily about a job and won't read history on their own time. So in order to get a job they get that technical degree, and receive the humanities content alongside. They never feel the urge to uninstall that humanities content, or to check it against Google Books primary sources. It's just the default.

The default today is heavier on the Nazis than the Gulag, as one example, and this difference in emphasis has many downstream effects. Weimar is less likely to be studied than dependencia theory, for another example.

With MOOCs, this package deal of tech + humanities is going to end soon. People will take classes a la carte, and one might predict that new grads in 5 years time will start shifting to the right. (It is hard to see the smart shifting even further left!). Time will tell.

Geeks tend to come in two forms - libertarians and equality oriented. Current GOP doesn't really appeal to either.

Yes. The real title fight would have been between Ron Paul and Obama's tech teams. That would have been Google vs. Facebook. Romney vs. Obama in tech was like Myspace vs. Facebook.

And there was rampant speculation that the GOP fixed the Maine 2012 caucus as well to prevent Ron Paul from winning there:



Sounds about right. Do you have any sources or this or is this what you've seen personally?

It is less the individuals they used and more the methods - the GOP leveraged old-boy contracts to IBM-style, tie-wearing consultant shops, and the Dems went for cloud infrastructure and open source.

It really highlights the old-world vs. new you see between the two parties.

> It really highlights the old-world vs. new you see between the two parties.

That's a bit much. Somebody made the right call infrastructure-wise and somebody made the wrong one. That's it.

If anything, Republicans are more "new-world" regarding tech policy in general, ie copyright/intellectual property.

Both choices are crap, but I think most technical people would still rather have the restrictive patents over policies drafted with the expectation of Jesus's return.

bullshit. They are the establishment, the old white guys, whose model is not the most efficient way of getting things done.

yes, someone made the wrong call infrastructure wise, but you have to ask: why did they make this call? It's because, in their world, this is how you do it.

The Dems were more open to a different type of campaign that brought tech in house etc.

Writing it off as an infrastructure choice with no relation to how they think is disingenuous.

> They are the establishment

Isn't Obama the establishment now? I think he's a Democrat.

> the old white guys

Most Republicans aren't old. Some are white, but not all. I'm not. Some aren't even guys ...

If I said something similar about Democrats, like how they're all black or something equally moronic and false ... you'd be jumping up and down, calling me a racist.

> The Dems were more open to a different type of campaign that brought tech in house etc.


I think the whole point of conservative is not changing, keeping things the way they are, as opposed to "progressive" ideas, which advocate change. I'm not interested in debating you about who is actually "establishment" etc. in that way, my point was conservatives have an "establishment" way of thinking: the tried and the true, the way things worked before, not necessarily the way they will work in the future.

I think you understand what I'm talking about.

Re the old white comment, look at the demographics: that was the only demographic republicans won. If you said democrats were just a bunch of black guys, then yes I would be offended. If you said the truth, that democrats were a coalition of young people, single women, and minorities, I would not. I'm a white male, and voted for Obama, so I understand that it is a generalization.

That link is irrelevant, I don't care if Obama doesn't like Xboxs and iphones, doesn't mean his campaign wasn't technologically proficient: whose campaign's tech broke down on election day and outsourced their development to contractors? Romney.

Who had a dedicated team of coders in house and everything worked well? Obama. Most startup guys will tell you that outsourcing their main product never ends well.


Comparing the two's info sys I can't help but draw a lot of similarities between old vs new, "enterprise"/top down/"consultant shops" vs agile/developer driven, monolithic up front vs bit by bit iterative.

I was going to make that observation over on http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4842510 but didn't as it was a generalization and based on reading two articles (that one and the Orca debacle one). Despite that there's truth behind it and this articles puts some numbers behind that truth.

>>> Among employees who work for Google, Mr. Obama raised about $720,000 in itemized contributions this year, against only $25,000 for Mr. Romney. That means that Mr. Obama took almost 97 percent of the money between the two major candidates.

I'm not sure that's indicative of anything, Ron Paul's visit to Google, from what I recall, was a standing room event. I personally just abhor donating money to political causes. It results in negative ads, trivialization of deep issues, omission of important discussion topics, and doesn't benefit Internet industry much - most political spending goes towards TV ads.

As mentioned at the end of the post:

> Perhaps a different type of Republican candidate, one whose views on social policy are more in line with the tolerant and multicultural values of the Bay Area, and the youthful cultures of the leading companies here, could gather more support among information technology professionals.

> Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican, raised about $42,000 from Google employees, considerably more than Mr. Romney did.

So Ron Paul getting money is very different from the rest of the GOP getting money.

Is this really that big a problem though? I mean irrespective of how many people in SV disagree with the candidate, eventually if he/she throws enough money at the problem, he should be able to sort it out? After all, Porn is the canonical example for something that not a lot of engineering people would work on but still manages to attract enough talent to work on some really hard problems.

> Porn is the canonical example

It's the same with weapons design and scientists, or battlefield medicine and doctors. At some point the challenge overcomes the ethical qualms. Or, in some cases, the need to eat becomes pretty overwhelming. Morally dirty but technically difficult jobs often pay really rather well, partly because many talented people are turned off by the field.

Real example: a good friend of mine was in my physics class at university. He was a pretty peace-loving, anti-establishment, idealist type like all of us at that age, yet he's now a government employee spending his days inventing ways to make ICBM warheads invulnerable to anti-missile systems. It's cutting-edge materials science stuff, and he loves it. (As a cold war kid myself I'm slightly ashamed to say that I found the whole thing deeply cool and I'm quite jealous of his job.)

Exactly. I went to school and did research hoping to have a career in robotics/Unmanned air vehicles and I had resigned myself to having to work in defense because unless you are in Europe, the number of companies that work on robotics that is not defense related is very small (Single digits, I would say). While, I would have serious problems with the whole idea of actively participating in war, the fact of the matter is that the kind of problems that I would get to hack on while working on there would have been tremendous fun.

True, I remember a friend chose an internship at Altria (parent company to Phillip Morris, the cigarette company) over another because they paid so much better.

Re your friend though: I'd chalk it up to a maturation and the pragmatism that comes with it.

A job pays money, but it also involves a bunch of other things, like interesting work, a sense of purpose, and a manager who isn't an asshole.

More money can replace all the non-money things, in the same way tofu can replace bacon: It's a good enough replacement for some people, it'll never be a good enough replacement for all people.

It might be difficult to attract top tier job candidates if you offer an all-tofu diet. You might have to hire non-top-tier candidates.

+1 for "more money can replace all the non-money things, in the same way tofu can replace bacon."

That's the thing, though - they threw something like four times the amount of money at it than the Dems did and it still failed. The best metaphor is a Fortune 500 vs. a scrappy startup - who is more agile and can pivot faster?

I would argue that they just directed that money in the wrong direction. If the parties advertise money for campaign oriented tech Im sure the startup community will increasingly take notice and be willing to service any paying customer.

IIRC, the reason they spent so much money is because they outsourced it to a bunch of consultants. I am sure that if they wanted to do this properly, they could have organically grown a small team, and done this in-house.

Porn isn't something a lot of nerds like?

Lots of people may consume Porn but only a small subset of that group might be interested in creating Porn.

There's a difference between creating porn and building a porn site or whatever.

I don't disagree. However, I know quite a few people who think that they are somehow "contaminated" by the mere virtue of having an adult company on their resume. This may of course be bullshit because I know that we hired a mobile engineer from an adult production firm recently.

I lean Democrat but the GOP just took the wrong strategy this time around... they'll learn. If they can't find any good technologists that support their cause, pulling out a checkbook will reverse people's party alliances in an instant.

Believe me they'll unfortunately adapt.

From my perspective they have many more issues they need to sort out before this one to get themselves back together.

> pulling out a checkbook will reverse people's party alliances in an instant

A team of dedicated startup employees who really believe in what they're working on vs. throwing money at consultants 9-to-5er programmers? Pardon me while I place a few long bets.

You'd lose that bet. I live in the Bay Area, favor Obama over Romney, and have historically shown plenty of dedication to the startups which I founded or at which I have worked. If Romney's campaign came to me and said "please work 80-hour weeks at $200/hr to build us the most kick-ass infrastructure you can so that we can win" you can be damn sure I'd be moving to Boston the next day. I know plenty others who would as well.

But they wouldn't do that. They'd call up their defense contractor buddy who did that great system for the DoD that was only 2 years late and triple the original budget.

Beware survivor bias (in this case I guess it is the converse). The only DoD contracts you ever hear about are the ones that are over budget and behind schedule. That doesn't mean that the vast majority of them actually aren't great engineering on time and under budget.

I would completely agree that there are projects that are on time and on budget.

The argument i should have made in a less pejorative way is, Defense contractors are in the business of selling consulting services.

Fundamentally, government contractors economic incentives are more closely aligned with billable hours than shipping good software. When you sell the artifact itself, it has to be good. when you sell time, customers just have to feel good about how the time was spent.

They might in the next election, after having read the Nate Silver article and this thread.

And if the Obama campaign were making the same offer, which would you choose?

The campaign may have relied mostly on volunteers, but it would be foolish to think they wouldn't hire a small team of engineers to do the same work if they had to. The benefits to fundraising alone are substantial enough to warrant the cost.

I would probably work for Obama, and even at a cheaper rate that I would for Romney, but like misterbwong and eshvk said, the point is that if Obama has already hired his whole staff, Romney can offer a certain price where I am willing to ignore my political affiliations and be fully professional (read: not sabotage the effort because I dislike the candidate)

And if the Obama campaign were making the same offer, which would you choose?

This would be a valid point if there were only enough competent engineers for one party's staff. That isn't the case, though.

> And if the Obama campaign were making the same offer, which would you choose?

I think the point is that Romney's campaign would be able to hire engineers at some cost. This cost may be significantly higher than the cost that Obama would have to pay but nevertheless passionate, dedicated engineers can be obtained to produce high quality infrastructure.

Absolutely, they could have done much better by spending intelligently. But tend to also agree with alxp here, in that given finite resources you will be better off with missionaries rather than mercenaries.

There are two things with which I take issue in your comment: 1) Finite resources are always the case, so it would follow from your argument that one is always strictly better off with missionaries than mercenaries, which is simply not the case. 2) If there was anyone who could be considered to have infinite resources, it would have been the Romney campaign.

You're overselling the benefits of dedication, which can't be bought, and underselling the benefits of professionalism and experience, which can.

Very true, however I think the talent and ability of a technical team is just the tip of the iceberg here. The real coup that the Obama campaign pulled off was bringing a top-flight tech team in-house and somehow fitting them into the established campaign apparatus so their skills could really be leveraged.

The fact is it doesn't matter how good the engineers are, if they are mismanaged then you will not get good results. The main thing that Silicon Valley has really figured out is the necessity of letting engineers into the board room so to speak. You can't have a bunch of big-shot executives trying to dictate what to do from on high because the technical and operational challenges are just as significant as the political and strategic challenges. If the engineers are outsourced, or don't have autonomy, or aren't given a seat at the table for high-level decisions, then it will be impossible for them to deliver anything as groundbreaking as what the Obama campaign delivered.

What is conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley has been slow to make its way into the political sphere, but I think the cat's out of the bag now, and I'm sure you'll see a lot less hubris and a much more solid effort from the GOP in 2016.

Thats not what I said... Im saying that you can throw money at a team of dedicated startup employees to level the playing field.

All the GOP has to do is establish a pot of money for political tech and be willing to take a risk on startups looking to service political campaigns.

Think of essentially the SpaceX competition but for political campaign tech for the GOP

This article makes a lot of assumptions but it is hard to deny that silicon valley is a magnet for people who love technology.

It can be difficult to get a gauge on just how well the two parties are leveraging technology. My guess is they are both data mining their voter databases as well as doing some advanced machine learning. If that is the case I would guess recruiting people would be much easier out in the Bay Area.

What percentage of "job creators" does this cover?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that computer and mathematical jobs are 2.7% of ALL jobs and 5.5% of jobs in SF.[1] I can't find the percentage of NEW jobs that are tech-related.

[1] http://www.bls.gov/ro9/oessanf.htm

That ?gwh= parameter should be removed from the URL. It will trigger the paywall for some people.

It did for me, but no biggie -- just open the link in porn mode and everything is fixed.

If GOP pays top-dollar which should be their philosophy, I'll def. work for them. It's about monies.

To everyone saying all Republicans need to do is throw money at it: Missionaries beat Mercenaries every time.

And the point of the article is that Democrats have ~5 times more potential to find missionaries than Republicans do.

Anyone who has tried to hire will realize that it is difficult, and a pool of 5x gives you a huge advantage.

If it were just about SW talent, I'd suspect that the G.O.P. could find plenty of willing and capable engineers in the finance sector to lead the way (assuming that the IT teams in the finance sector are aligned with the G.O.P. along with the more outward facing facets of the industry).

While I can only speak for Chicago, the traders/finance people certainly lean right, but the developers seem to generally lean left, at least given the last few GOP candidates. Most that I know are in finance because you can stay in Chicago and make substantially more than working at Google/MSFT/Facebook while working 7.5 hour days with no overtime (with a few exceptions, e.g., Citadel).

Read some Chomsky. It doesn't matter.

Care to elaborate?

Did not mean to be curt. But when I read articles like this I put up my shields. The article seems to describe how one side is winning but it's only part of the illusion that there is real debate about real issues being discussed in presidential elections. It's like professional wrestling, everyone know it's fake but nevertheless feverishly take sides. Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman wrote about this in their book, Manufacturing Consent.

pvdm is probably (off topic, and ..) suggesting there is an illusion of choice when it comes to the american political duopoly

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