State of the Union: Heavy-Handed Tech Regulation Fails to Appeal to Many Democratic Voters

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President Biden should take advantage of breaking spy balloon news to talk about that—or anything else—instead of re-upping calls for regulation aimed at big tech during his State of the Union address.

Last year he made Facebook whistle blower Frances Haugen one of his special guests in the chamber and called on Congress to “strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children.”

Of course, none of that happened.

And with good policy reasons. Privacy is a nuanced topic that means different things to different people Targeted advertising just means kids see more relevant ads while small businesses spend their budgets more efficiently. Moreover, the Child Online Privacy Protection Act has been patrolling behavior for users under 13 for a decade.

But there are also political reasons why legislation against the tech industry hasn’t passed. Bluster about “Big Tech” may earn Democratic politicians cable news hits and clicks from a narrow band of voters occupying the outer edge of opinions, but that’s not the full picture.

As Adam Kovacevich of the left-leaning industry group Chamber of Progress points out, Pew research indicates that moderate Democratic voters have the most favorable opinion of the tech industry. He explains that the “tech-lash” is more of a myth than a movement. In the last three years, self-identified Democrats have remained at 58 percent approval for tech in polls.

The group’s own polling finds even less evidence that this regulatory push is a winner for Democrats. Of those asked, 40 percent wanted more “consumer protections but [to] preserve services’ usefulness.” A very practical 26 percent asked for “more tech jobs.” Those priorities are a far cry from the media-hyped tech agenda of the past couple years. In fact, eliminating Section 230 liability protections and banning targeted ads and integrated tech services ranked lowest among those polled.

President Biden should take note and not endorse those same measures Tuesday night. He can avoid the Hindenburg of a regulatory tech policy by talking about the real spy balloon instead.