In around 24 hours it will be a lot clearer—if uncertain—who America’s next President will be. And while tech has been far down the list of electoral priorities for both candidates, wins for Donald Trump or Joe Biden have far-reaching Silicon Valley consequences for a variety of reasons.
Most polls have Biden clear of Trump by a significant margin. FiveThirtyEight, the website founded by Nate Silver, gives incumbent Trump just a one in ten chance to topple his Democrat rival. Key battlegrounds like Florida and Pennsylvania are predicted to steer the result. But almost no experts predict a Trump win.
The President, perhaps noting this gap, has chosen instead to sow doubt in America’s voting system. Mail-in ballots have soared amid the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic: 94m have been cast, which constitutes 68% of the entire 2016 electorate. Trump has cited many false or misleading statements about voter fraud – and has even refused to a peaceful transition of power should he lose.
Results aside, both men have wildly different views on the tech industry, that in many ways reflect their style of governing. Trump’s inconsistent, oftentimes personal attacks on tech platforms he feels have dealt him a bad hand—such as Twitter and Facebook—reflect a wider unease that Silicon Valley impinges on conservative voices.
This May, Trump signed an executive order aimed against social media censorship. A survey carried out by Pew the previous month showed that 56% of Americans favor steps to restrict online disinformation.
Seventy-two percent believe it is likely or very likely social media firms censor information political viewpoints they find objectionable. Should social media brands wish to remain an integral part of the American conversation, that is a figure they will need to address.
They may not get the chance. Both Trump and Biden favor repealing Section 230, the rule that absolves platforms of responsibility for the content posted to their webpages. A revoke of 230 would shake up the entire industry – with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and co suddenly exposed to millions of lawsuits over harmful content.
Amazon has come under scrutiny from the President for its monopoly over the e-commerce market – though Trump’s distaste for the brand appears to come more from a personal enmity with CEO Jeff Bezos, than a considered attempt to steer an antitrust case.
In June Trump even agreed with EU lawmakers, a stark rarity for his leadership, in filing cases against Big Tech giants like Google and Facebook. “Obviously there’s something going on in terms of monopoly,” he said in an interview with CNBC.
Though Trump, who has dished out tax breaks to big business and railed against corporate tax hikes, is unclear whether he wants action meted out at the Capitol. “Every week you see them going after Facebook and Apple and all of these companies,” he said in the same interview.
“The European Union is suing them all of the time. Well, we should be doing this. They’re our companies. So, (the EU is) actually attacking our companies, but we should be doing what they’re doing. They think there’s a monopoly, but I’m not sure that they think that. They just think this is easy money.”
Biden has issued no such threats against tech – though his plans to equalize tax burdens for tax-avoiding Big Tech firms could shave millions from tech stocks. Yet a Biden presidency would likely be good news for semiconductor firms. With a less hawkish policy towards China, the slow reintroduction of Huawei and others into the US marketplace would help companies like Western Digital and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing.
A final hope for tech platforms is that a Biden presidency will overturn Trump White House curbs on immigration in the tech industry. A tough stance on H-1B visas cut into the staff of many high-profile tech companies – with a particular effect on skilled workers coming from India.
This is one area where Biden and Trump truly diverge. Biden has bid to expand such programs, while his rival wants to squash them. Little wonder almost 95% of Big Tech’s spend has gone on the Democrat challenger from Delaware. In a day’s time, America’s political winds may shift in a completely different direction.