Obama vs. McCain: Who Would Best Benefit the Technology Market?


The answer to the question in the title of this post depends on what part of the industry you are in and how much power Palin, as I wrote on this earlier, would get if McCain won. This is mostly back-of-the-envelope thinking, but I've been getting questions on this for several weeks, so I'll aggregate my responses.




Barack Obama is more focused on technology and is very popular in the Silicon Valley, suggesting a deep affinity with a number of the firms. He is expected to be much more rigid with regard to letting foreign workers in or supporting outsourcing opportunities, which may be seen as anti-competitive within a world market. Tech workers would likely be better cared for (though most tech benefit plans are comparatively lucrative anyway), but large tech companies potentially would be less able to respond competitively to overseas threats through workforce actions.


Obama is seen as an aggressive user of technology and would be expected to understand the security exposures the nation has. But in the current economic climate, it is clear he won't be able to do everything and this priority probably falls to number seven or eight on a list of five things he can actually fund. It is interesting to note that he is proposing an actual CTO.


I expect he would be less restrictive with regard to selling technology overseas and more likely to understand that, right now, much of the advanced work is actually going on overseas because the U.S. is excessively restrictive with regard to exports.


As far as investing in IT systems for government, there is nothing to suggest that would be a high enough priority; Obama might cut government IT budgets sharply to get some headroom for education and health care, which are massively higher priorities. However, both of those markets would get funding and spend a considerable amount of it on IT to update infrastructure, though I expect the bigger focus would be on job creation. Defense spending would clearly drop sharply overall.


So companies might be less competitive internationally, which may offset somewhat the increased job protection for tech workers he would bring but they would be more able to sell technology than they now are. The government likely would not significantly increase tech spending (except for infrastructure, think Cisco) and, particularly in defense areas, would decrease it. Areas like health care and education might increase significantly depending on how much focus goes to job creation.




John McCain is a comparative Luddite, so expecting him to drive technology for its own sake is unreasonable. His focus seems to be more on taxes here. His priorities fall in different areas, however. He is pro-defense and is likely to try to hold spending at current levels in all areas including technology if he can. He is more likely not to really want to change much up or down unless it is part of a cost-cutting move, and the economic conditions will drive many of those. As I wrote before, Sarah Palin plays a potential big role here if she is given the lead. In both of her previous positions, she increased IT spending sharply, though it is not clear through the record whether this is a result of her being technology savvy or having a trusted tech advisor.


Were she to get the lead in this area, and this is at least possible, she would likely increase IT spending for the U.S. government sharply, under the assumed belief that the result would be better control and reduced overall U.S. government waste.


This increase wouldn't hit all areas. Remember that the costs associated with government contracts of this type, while potentially lucrative, have a substantial upfront component that many firms are even less likely to be able to easily afford in the coming years. Big firms like IBM, HP, Dell, Cisco (Cisco may benefit more from Obama) and Oracle are most likely to benefit because they are best positioned for this kind of business.


Those connected with defense, like General Dynamics, are probably the least at risk with this ticket in general.


Netting It Out


Under Obama, workers are probably better protected but companies, particularly large companies, may be less competitive globally and have less opportunity with the U.S. government IT structure, which will offset these protections. Smaller companies and their workers will probably get the strongest benefit, particularly in the health care and education industries. Firms that have been blocked unreasonably from selling technology overseas are more likely to see some relief as well as those in education, health care and networking.


Under McCain, U.S. government IT and defense technology spending is more likely to hold if not increase and multi-nationals to become more competitive generally, benefiting the largest companies. This may allow them to employ more people, but benefits for those they employ are more likely to erode and the actual jobs are at potentially greater risk (though the current trend is actually to shift jobs on-shore so this may be a moot argument short term). Otherwise, it is likely to be status quo on most existing policies, with a possible strong upside for U.S. government IT if Palin gets this responsibility.


Both will have to cut costs heavily in general, which could affect a variety of non-essential technology providers.


Neither has shown a huge focus on protection against domestic cyber terrorism. McCain is more likely to focus on traditional threats and Obama's priorities place this relatively far from the top of his list, but he is appointing a CTO who is likely to make this a priority. Palin might drive a similar policy but hasn't yet taken this position (her published priorities are very light) that I can find, but her recent personal attack should provide focus.


Consumer Tech


Since we are focused on IT, I didn't spend a lot of time on consumer tech, but that is generally seen as a luxury, under the current economic conditions. Only the most well off are likely to hold spending there. Given that Obama's tax plan focuses on this group, he is likely to have the most adverse impact on that group. However, the $250,000 threshold is pretty high, the numbers affected are small, and this group is relatively resilient, so the impact may not be that significant.


Overall, the economy in general is probably the stronger driver for this spending and Obama, based on how he ran his campaign (neither candidate has particularly strong economic backgrounds but Obama was more successful financially), should be the strongest on the economy, suggesting that he may represent the best hope for an early turnaround for consumer tech.


Historically, Obama seems to be more strategic in general, while McCain is more tactical. This may favor Obama if you believe, as I do, that fixing an economic problem will take years.


The Most Important Vote of Your Life


If it weren't for Palin, Obama would clearly be the stronger tech player overall. But Palin is in the mix and she is reasonably likely to play a big role. Who you work for may have you leaning one way, on top of who you believe would be better for the economy overall. The Republicans should be better but Obama, at least to me, appears more capable. You can probably guess how this Republican voted.


All I can say is that this is probably the most important election we have ever had in our lives so far, and are likely ever to have, so find the time to do the research and vote. Whichever way you vote, good luck to all of us. We'll need it.