I just donated $25 to Barack Obama. Much like many other geeks before me. Obama is clearly the choice of the country’s programmers, researchers, and other eggheads. Why?
Despite the explosion of baby name voting posts, I usually write about more technical topics on this blog. I’m very interested in the intersection of technology and society, and use of the internet in social interaction. So I think it’s fair to talk about that other vote that’s going on right now, the 2008 U.S. Presidential election.
As I said before, Obama is clearly the choice of the geek constituency. Don’t believe me? Here’s a graph of individual campaign contributions by employees at five large, notoriously geeky tech companies, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Amazon:
All data was found using the search form at OpenSecrets.org.
Granted, my methodology for picking these particular companies is pretty ad-hoc, but I think the trend is clear. All five are known for hiring the smartest folks they can find. You would have to search for quite some time to find a tech company where the Obama donations don’t outweigh the McCain donations by huge multipliers.
But many very smart people do important work outside of the corporate world, so let’s look at the top 5 research universities:
Again, not a perfect measure, but a pretty good indicator. So let’s assume at this point you’re willing to concede that the geeks love Barack. Why?
Intelligent people have many reasons to support the candidate they do. Peter Norvig has a pretty good rundown on his site, for example. But I’ll talk briefly about four issues I find important that I think apply to many of my fellow programmers, researchers, bloggers, bookworms, and webmasters.
Geeks don’t like BS
I mean, of course, BS in the important literary sense. For example, McCain constantly talks about cutting earmarks. To hear him speak, cutting earmarks will save the federal government so much money that tax cuts will be necessary just keep the national coffers from overflowing.
In reality, earmarks are barely noticeable when compared to other government spending. Here’s a chart by economist Mark Thoma:
McCain also talks a lot about drilling for offshore oil. Almost as if it’s an actual solution:
Geeks will take numbers and real data over crowd-pleasing marketing every day.
Geeks like Network Neutrality
Network neutrality is quite possibly the most important technology policy issue in play right now. Geeks like the relatively level playing field we have right now on the net. While we’re perfectly happy to pay for the bandwidth use, we don’t like the thought of paying arbitrary fees to companies who control access.
When Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, he didn’t have to get the phone company’s permission to do so. Think of all the important innovations that have lead to the Internet we know and love today that were created by hobbyists, small companies, college students, researchers, college professors, small teams of programmers, start ups, and other groups of outsiders. They’re the ones we need to protect and we all benefit when they have equal access to the marketplace of ideas.
On this issue Obama is very clear:
Anti-Intellectualism is Anti-Geek
David Brooks wrote an interesting column about this issue in the New York Times:
Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.
Every time Sarah Palin talks about the “real Americans,” she excludes those of use who make our livings with the product of our minds. Every time the Republican party nominates someone like Palin or George W. Bush, they make the claim that you don’t have to understand the world in order to lead it. It almost seems as though they derive their confidence directly from their ignorance.
Geeks Hate FUD
Any rhetoric or innuendo aimed at fanning the flames of fear or hatred of black people, Muslims, or gays is completely lost on an audience of geeks. Listen, we live and work with all of these folks and we’re just not going to hate them no matter how many email forwards or television commercials you send out (what’s more, we consider email forwards and television commercials among the lowest forms of human communication).
We have a phrase for it: sewing fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). We can smell FUD from a mile away. When I hear some lame story about Obama serving on the same board as some dude from the Weather Underground, it’s like someone has emptied an entire bottle of FUD-fragranced Febreeze on my couch.
So that’s my take, and four of the many reasons why I support Barack Obama.
By the way, here’s a clearer depiction of the pro-Obama contributions shown in the charts above. The chart shows the ratio in favor of Obama and how this compares to the national average for individual contributions: