The rich may be different from you and me, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted, but bankers are increasingly different from the rest of the rich. In this year’s election, Wall Street’s campaign contributions and voting patterns, as best we can discern them, bear no resemblance to the contributions and votes from our other most highly paid sectors — particularly high tech.
A cruise through two haunts of the rich — the techies’ Silicon Valley and the banker towns of Connecticut’s Fairfield County — turns up strikingly different voting patterns. President Obama carried Santa Clara County, the epicenter of high tech, by 43 points over Mitt Romney. In such leafy Wall Street burbs as Greenwich and New Canaan, Conn., by contrast, Romney prevailed by 11 and 29 points, respectively. Outside the most banker-dense villages, Romney’s totals plummeted: Obama carried the whole of Fairfield County by 11 points, much as he carried most of the affluent suburbs of New York, San Francisco, Washington and Los Angeles.
The differences between finance and other wealthy sectors are even more pronounced in their campaign contributions. Romney’s five largest contributors, by employer, are, in order, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Credit Suisse. Wells Fargo comes in sixth. (“Contributors by employer” refers to the total of contributions from employees of a particular company.) There are no tech companies on the list of Romney’s top 20 contributors by employer. There aren’t even any tech companies on the list of Romney’s top 10 contributors by employer in California.
Open Secrets, the campaign finance monitor, has tallied the contributions of each American industry (both employees and the companies themselves) to super PACs this year and found that “Securities and Investment,” which donated more than any other industry — $75,036,769 — gave $4 to conservative super PACs for every $1 they gave to a liberal one. (The number-two industry by donations, “Casinos/Gambling” — that is, Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn — donated $31,729,520, of which 99 percent went to conservative super PACs. Those who contend that the differences between finance and casinos are largely cosmetic now have one more argument they can invoke.)
On the list of Obama’s five largest contributors by employer, the University of California heads the pack, with Microsoft, Google, the federal government and Harvard rounding out the top five. IBM and Apple are also on the list of the top 20, as are four other universities, but just one bank: Wells Fargo, which placed 19th and which is the only major bank based in Northern California. Open Secrets’ tally of super PAC contributions from the “Computers/Internet” industry — they totaled $9,292,448 — showed that 58 percent went to liberal groups. The New York Times’ Nate Silver has calculated that Obama received 97 percent of the presidential campaign contributions of Google employees, 91 percent of Apple employees, 81 percent of those at Microsoft and 77 percent of those at IBM.
Generalizations are now in order. Obama won overwhelming backing from the most productive and innovative sector of American capitalism. Romney won the backing of finance and casinos, whose contributions to American productivity and well-being are more difficult to discern, and which are industries based on reshuffling resources in games the house almost always wins. Obama, if you will, won the makers; Romney, the takers.
The makers, moreover, haven’t shown themselves at all averse to raising taxes on the rich. On Election Day, Californians voted to end their 10 years of annual budget deficits and fiscal crises — and underfunding schools and universities — by passing, 55 percent to 45 percent, Proposition 30, which hiked marginal tax rates on incomes above $250,000. Santa Clara County gave the measure 63 percent support. The state’s tech sector, which historically has supported more funding for education, contributed virtually nothing to the campaign to defeat Proposition 30, which was financed almost entirely by right-wing ideologues.
How do we explain the gulf that separates the techies from the bankers? Part of the explanation may be demographic: The techies are younger, and a new survey by the San Jose Mercury News concludes that fully half of the Bay Area’s tech workforce is Asian American, a group that backed Obama in California at a rate of 79 percent. Wall Street, by contrast, is overwhelmingly white.
More broadly and at the risk of oversimplifying, techies are into making products while bankers are into making money. In the age of Obama, where the big money dwells, invention is Democratic; sweet deals are Republican.