Looking Forward (and Backward) to the 2016 Presidential Election

This post is one in a series of reports on significant issues for startups in 2015. In the past year, the startup community's voice helped drive notable debates in tech and entrepreneurship policy, but many of the tech world's policy goals in 2015, such as immigration and patent reform, remain unfulfilled. Check back for more year-end updates and continue to watch this space in 2016 as we follow policy issues affecting the startup community.

As 2015 comes to a close and we look forward to 2016, it is nearly impossible to ignore the presidential contest and its impact (or lack thereof!) on technology and entrepreneurship policy. As the party primaries rage on, notably missing has been any real debate about many of the issues that are most important to the startup community, such as access to capital, net neutrality, patent reform, and access to talent.

A few things are at play here: First, most of these issues are largely bipartisan. On the one hand, this is good news, since we’re more likely to see something get done. On the other, the polarizing nature of primaries—when candidates play to their bases—disincentivizes candidates from addressing anything that could be seen as centrist. Take, for instance, Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2013 efforts to strike a bipartisan deal on immigration, for which his Republican opponents now take him to task.

Second, with at least one notable exception (crypto and cybersecurity, more on that below), the issues startups care the most about frankly aren’t proving to be all that popular with campaigns. This is incredibly short-sighted. As economic growth and opportunity are central issues to every campaign, candidates should recognize startups as significant contributors. Startups are responsible for all net new job growth in the United States. They create opportunity and help the continued economic recovery in cities all over the country.

That’s not to mention all of the amazing technology they create, which is increasingly making its way into crucial and highly-regulated sectors such as health, transit, and education. How our federal government adapts to and regulates new technologies will greatly impact the future and the pace of innovation.

Our political leaders should support this community, which is why we’ve been disappointed to see so little attention paid to startup issues this political season. Troublingly, the only tech conversation receiving any significant airtime in the campaign—cybersecurity—has reflected a serious misunderstanding of the underlying technological issues and a disregard for the impact that ill-conceived cybersecurity policies would have on the startup economy. In the wake of numerous terrorist attacks, it’s no surprise that candidates are looking for any tool available to improve national security. But proposals to curb encryption technologies and increase surveillance programs only serve to make American companies and users more vulnerable to cyberattacks—there is simply no such thing as a “government-only” encryption backdoor—with no likely associated safety benefit. Tech companies and advocates have tried time and again to explain why such policies are technologically unworkable, but politicians do not appear to be listening. Obviously, this should be troubling to the startup sector. If policymakers are unwilling or unable to understand technology and tech issues, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to craft policy that supports innovation.

It’s not just politicians, of course. Our community needs to make its voice heard, particularly as the primaries wrap up and we get down to the brass tacks of a presidential election. When that time comes, it will be up to us as much as to them to ensure that tech issues get their fair share of debate. We hope you’ll join us in making that happen!