The Political Leanings of Silicon Valley

Photo: Getty and Corbis

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg surprised everyone today by agreeing to host a fund-raiser for New Jersey governor Chris Christie, whose “leadership on education reform and other issues” he and his wife Priscilla apparently support.

People often assume that because Silicon Valley tech companies are filled with hip, young progressives, the people who run them are all Democrats, too. But the personal politics of the tech scene’s A-list are far less predictable. Hardcore libertarianism has been making inroads among a younger set of tech entrepreneurs, who see its goals of limited government as being compatible with their general hatred of innovation-stifling regulation. And as more and more tech founders become phenomenally wealthy, many are naturally drawn to the right-wing political ideologies that help them preserve more of that wealth.

To help you keep track of where your favorite tech titans sit on the left-to-right spectrum, we’ve compiled a partial list.

Marissa Mayer: The Yahoo CEO is as reliably Democratic as they come. She’s given a ton of money to the Democratic National Committee and is one of President Obama’s most successful Silicon Valley bundlers.

Sergey Brin: Mayer’s onetime boss, Google co-founder Brin is not a huge fan of the two-party political system. (Last year, he called for the winner of the 2012 presidential race to quit his political party and govern as an independent.) But his donations to the DNC and the Obama campaign make it clear which of the two parties he likes better.

Reid Hoffman: The LinkedIn co-founder and current VC gave $1 million to Priorities USA Action, an Obama-supporting super-PAC, in 2012. And his campaign donations show he’s a down-the-line liberal.

Mark Zuckerberg: it’s fairly safe to say that Zuck is still a left-leaner, despite his support of Christie. He palled around with President Obama during the last campaign cycle, and his No. 2 at Facebook, COO Sheryl Sandberg, is a longtime Democratic donor. But his entry into Christie’s camp — and the fact that more of Facebook’s PAC money went to Republicans than Democrats last year — means that he is bucking the trend of easy political categorization.

Sean Parker: The first chairman of Facebook is also a Democratic donor ($35,800 to the Obama campaign in 2012) and has said about his personal tax rate, “I am paying far too little in taxes at the moment, in particular on capital gains which should have been increased after the Bush era.” He is also involved in some weird initiative with Al Gore.

Peter Thiel: Thiel, who works with Parker at the Founders Fund, is the libertarian godfather of Silicon Valley. He basically bankrolled Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign and wants to build a libertarian island utopia to host all his ideological bedfellows. He used to be considered something of an oddball, but now his views are creeping into Silicon Valley’s mainstream.

Jeff Bezos: Amazon’s founder has never talked publicly about his political beliefs, but his friends described him as a libertarian in a March 2012 profile. He has skipped 18 of the last 21 elections, according to Envision Seattle, but he has given money to anti-tax initiatives in the past. He also gave $2.5 million to a same-sex marriage effort in Washington state. So, toss-up!

Marc Andreessen: The well-known venture capitalist shocked everyone by supporting Mitt Romney in 2012 after a lifetime of backing Democrats. Why? Because, he says, “I turned 40 last year and so I figured it was time to make the switch.” But also, he disdains liberal arts majors and derides the existence of the middle class as a fantasy. So maybe not all that much of a shocker.

Meg Whitman: The HP strugglebug is the only person on this list to have actually run for office. After losing her race for California governor as a Republican, she cut a six-figure check to a Romney-supporting super-PAC. She probably would have become a Romney cabinet member if he had won the race; instead, she gets to keep supporting the GOP from afar while tending to the burning wreckage of her company.

Steve Ballmer: The Microsoft CEO is actually something of a fence-sitter, since he has given money to some Democrats in addition to (a lot of) Republicans. But he also gave $2,500 in 2011 to something called the “Every Republican Is Crucial PAC,” and worked on George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign, so it’s fairly clear where his loyalties lie.

Everyone else: As Nate Silver recently pointed out, Silicon Valley is still a liberal stronghold, and the employees of large tech companies tend to support Democrats by a tremendous margin. (Apple employees, for example, gave 91 percent of their campaign contributions last cycle to President Obama.) So maybe there’s something about being a C-suite executive — or a billionaire — that makes the right side of the spectrum sound slightly more palatable.