“Confusion reigns in the political arena. Old labels no longer fit, and the citizenry seems torn between competing desires for saviors and scapegoats.” So began a 1995 story in WIRED on the state of digital-age politics. Electoral turmoil then amounted to a standoff between “a Democratic president, a Republican Congress, and a slew of voters registering as ‘Independent.’ ” More innocent times, clearly. Still, the public seemed to be looking for new paradigms, which inspired WIRED to ask, “Is there a new politics emerging in the Net/cyberspace/digital culture?” The answer was, cautiously, yes. And that politics was libertarianism, with its zeal for laissez-faire capitalism and contempt for the ponderous institutions of Big Government.
If you asked a similar question today—is there a new Silicon Valley politics?— it would be pretty clear that libertarianism is no longer the answer. Sure, obstreperous free-market utopians are still some of the most quotable members of the tech scene, but truly, the last right-leaning presidential candidate to win Santa Clara County, the heart of Silicon Valley, was Ronald Reagan in 1984. As the tech industry has grown in power and influence, its politics have moved to the left. Bill Clinton pulled out wins in both his campaigns. In 2012, Barack Obama won with 70 percent of the vote to Mitt Romney’s 27 percent, and employees of big tech companies like Apple and Google donated overwhelmingly to Obama’s campaign. Four years later, Bernie Sanders got 42 percent of the Democratic primary vote, and Hillary Clinton won 73 percent of the general electorate in Santa Clara County, one of the most lopsided results in California. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson? He received 3.64 percent of the vote, close to his national average.