The 2016 presidential race has been fraught with scandal and intrigue, but media coverage of actual policy issues has left something to be desired. To this point, we know about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of an unsanctioned email server and that there are rumors of failing health. And we know that Republican nominee Donald Trump is committed to the idea of a southern border wall and maintaining a blood feud with the “crooked media.”
But for those of us keeping score in the technology policy arena, there are gaps in what we know — or at least can perceive — about each candidate and what they might bring to the table if elected president. A new study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) has shed some light on these technology-centric issues, but what do the candidate's positions mean when translated to the state and local levels?
At first pass of the 39-page document, Clinton vs. Trump: Comparing the Candidates’ Positions on Technology and Innovation, it is clear that the Clinton camp has a more developed platform regarding technology and innovation. Of the 10 areas (and 69 subcategories) of key importance outlined by ITIF, Trump received 34 “no position” marks, while Clinton received only eight.
“Trump has largely been silent when it comes to technology and innovation policy. And when he has spoken, about the tech industry, his comments have sometimes been critical,” the report reads. “But the most distinguishing feature of the Trump campaign agenda in this area has been its notable lack of articulated policy positions.”
At the state and local levels, several key areas must be considered to determine their direct impact. Among them are funds for business and innovation incubation; regional innovation programs; science technology engineering and math (STEM) education; broadband and telecom access; and life sciences and biotechnology.
ITIF President Robert Atkinson said the disparities between the two campaigns could be tied to Clinton’s technology work in the U.S. Senate, where she collaborated with Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the Brookings Institution and ITIF to work to create a foundation for national innovation, and the fact that the polarized voter bases are concerned with different issues.
In areas like STEM, Trump is cited as arguing that there is no shortage of skilled workers and has called for education to be driven at the local level, while Clinton’s position focuses on training computer science teachers to fill growing demand, and supporting state and local government in program creation.
Atkinson said that while Trump falls short on a solid tech policy stance, Clinton’s policies seem to revolve around empowering institutions at the state, local and academic levels.
“A lot of the Clinton proposals are related to enabling and empowering subnational institutions to be more active in innovation," he said. "For example, supporting states and cities to establish STEM-intensive high schools … supporting incubators and accelerators around the country. … A lot of these are basically innovation federalism, if you will."
Atkinson calls this part of Clinton’s “visceral” interest in tech-related issues dating back to her time in the Senate.
In the telecommunications, net neutrality and broadband arenas, the candidates separated themselves from each other even further. Trump was cited as having expressed concern about the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Net Neutrality ruling and what he sees as a threat to conservative media. Clinton, on the other hand, supported the agency’s verdict.
Clinton has more broadly pledged support for affordable broadband to all American households by 2020 and broadband programs, while Trump took no position on these issues.
“Trump had very, very few details on policies,” Atkinson explained. “I think it’s more that his campaign is not a policy campaign, it’s really a campaign much more around him as a person, and big-picture themes that he is articulating, but it is not a policy campaign.”
As for the transition from the Obama administration, which has been supportive of technology and innovation, Atkinson said he sees the potential for increased devotion to the space under Clinton. On the other hand, he said, the same might not be true of a Trump presidency given the overall lack of position on many issues.
“In my mind it should raise concern," he said. "Would a Trump administration really focus on this in a serious way rather than kind of the minimum that they have to focus on?”
Without an overt interest in the area of technology and innovation, Atkinson did say that a Trump administration is unlikely to appoint individuals who reflect his own interests and priorities in these particular areas. Where Trump took recognizable stances were immigration of skilled workers, tax policy, trade policy and digital economy policies.
Despite the disparities in the policy platforms, the report cites negative productivity growth as a larger concern that neither campaign has addressed. ITIF called for more bipartisan cooperation and flexibility regarding policies that support economic and technical growth.