If visitors to our planet judged the presidential campaign by the bumper stickers on cars near major research universities and in technology corridors, they would be excused for thinking Ron Paul is a leading candidate in November's election. The same conclusion could be drawn from a casual perusal of YouTube or the blogosphere, where he became the darling of the libertarians endemic to the Internet.
An equally funhouse-mirror view of presidential prospects can be seen in the results of a 14-country survey of CIOs and IT managers. The Computer Technology Industry Association asked its worldwide membership -- although it's unclear why -- which presidential candidate would be best for the technology industry's growth. About half of the 3,500 respondents took a pass. Those who did hazard a guess defaulted to name recognition with a trio of Democrats -- Hillary Clinton (25 percent), Al Gore (9 percent) and Barack Obama (8 percent) -- taking the top three spots. John McCain, the presumptive Republican standard-bearer, did not chart. (see clarification on p. 2)
At press time, three U.S. senators, McCain, Clinton and Obama, were the leading contenders to take residence at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. It is worth noting that their campaign Web sites stand in sharp contrast to their official, congressional Web sites. Campaign sites encourage online donations at every turn, post all manner of video in the hope of having the next viral hit, and try to engage voters through social networking.
Each of the three campaigns have either an official or independent presence on seven of the big ones: Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Flickr, Eventful, Twitter and the boomer-oriented Eons. However, the Obama campaign has extended its reach to social networks targeted at the black, Asian, Latino, faith-based and gay communities.
Contrast that with their official Senate sites, where constituents get scarcely more than a phone number and an e-mail link, which suggests all of them need to govern more like they campaign if they are to deliver on the ubiquitous promise of change.
But bumper stickers, blogs, straw polls and even widget counts are unreliable indicators of ballot box prospects. Given the sustained economic downturn, David Leonhardt, who writes the Economic Scene column for The New York Times, told a public radio interviewer that it may be time for less Paul and for a more activist administration.
"We are not just a free-market economy. We built the interstate highway system. We built the Internet," reminded Leonhardt. "These are all government intervention[s] in the economy, and it seems that we are going to need some kind of new government intervention ... not just more funding, but smarter funding."
What kind of government intervention on technology issues might we see during the 44th presidency? Clues are found in the candidates' responses to questions posed early this year by CNET on a handful of policy matters related to technology:
Real ID: McCain supports its full implementation, but he acknowledges states need enough time and money to implement it. The imposition of what Clinton calls a "massive, unfunded mandate on the states" is enough for both she and Obama to oppose it and call for its review.
Broadband Deployment: Clinton and Obama support tax incentives for broadband deployment to underserved communities; McCain favors market-based solutions to get more Internet at a lower cost.
Net Neutrality: McCain prefers "policing clearly anti-competitive behavior and consumer predation" to regulated completion; Obama sees neutrality as a vital defense against threats to "innovation, the open tradition and architecture of the Internet." For her part, Clinton said she was one of neutrality's original champions.
Innovation: All three candidates support extending the moratorium on Internet taxation. McCain and Clinton favor expansion of H1-B visas for skilled immigrants; Obama wants to foster domestic sources of IT talent to compete with H1-B holders.
Finally each candidate was asked to name their favorite gadget: McCain pointed to his Razr, while the other two cited their BlackBerrys. Funny, you would have thought the careful-image crafters in the Obama campaign would have given their candidate an iPhone.
This column appears as Geek in Chief? in the June/July issue of Public CIO.
The results of a survey of IT professionals in the original article (or post) were mistakenly attributed to the Computer Technology Industry Association. In fact, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) had commissioned separate opinion research this spring on the presidential preferences of IT professionals. The findings, coming before the end of primary season, showed Senators Obama and McCain "in a dead heat, with 29% each." For its part, the CompTIA has commissioned another survey on the subject before the general election, the findings of which are expected to be posted in September 2008 on the organization's website at comptia.org.
Paul W. Taylor, Ph.D., is the editor-at-large of Governing magazine. He also serves as the chief content officer of e.Republic, Governing’s parent organization, as well as senior advisor to the Governing Institute. Prior to joining e.Republic, Taylor served as deputy Washington state CIO and chief of staff of the state Information Services Board (ISB). Dr. Taylor came to public service following decades of work in media, Internet start-ups and academia. He is also among a number of affiliated experts with the non-profit, non-partisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C.