Bogus Trend Story: Mitt Romney Is Silicon Valley’s New Darling

Romney has slammed Obama for green energy subsidies such as the $535 million in guaranteed loans that went to now-defunct Silicon Valley solar power startup Solyndra.

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Mosey on over to CNBC today and your eye might catch on a provocative headline: “Is Mitt Romney the New Darling of Silicon Valley?

Slate readers, of all people, know that asking a provocative question in a headline does not imply that it will be answered in the affirmative. The problem here isn’t just the headline, though—it’s the story itself, which dances around the titular question just enough to leave the answer unclear to readers who aren’t paying close attention.

So as a public service, I’m putting the answer on record right here: No. No, Mitt Romney is not Silicon Valley’s new darling. Not by any contortion of the imagination.

The piece, written by Reuters, consists of a series of anecdotes, quotes, and generalizations that conspire to portray a tech sector that’s disenchanted with the president and increasingly enamored of his business-friendly rival. Among the evidence:

• Obama has raised less money from the employees of 15 top tech companies than he did four years ago, while Romney has raised more from those firms than McCain did.

• Obama supports some policies that not every Silicon Valley executive agrees with, while Romney supports other policies that some Silicon Valley execs do agree with.

• Marc Andreessen, Netscape founder and venture capitalist, backed Obama last time but is now backing Romney.

• A Chicago-based tax attorney who is a Romney fundraiser thinks the Obama administration is “more of the socialist bent.”

It could start to sound pretty convincing—provided you entirely ignore the actual numbers. Back to those employees of 15 top tech companies: Romney has raised $340,000 from them through May, up from McCain’s $240,000. Obama, meanwhile, has pulled in $1.44 million from that same group—down an inch or two from $1.6 million four years ago.

That stat starts to look a lot less telling when you look at the overall fundraising picture. In 2008, Obama’s total spending more than doubled that of McCain. In this cycle, Romney has been raising money at a clip nearly on par with Obama—yet Obama is still crushing Romney by more than four-to-one among the employees of those 15 tech companies.

To be fair to Reuters, its own headline for the piece was far more modest: “Romney gains toehold in Silicon Valley fundraising.” And, of course, it throws in some prudent caveats, as my former Slate colleague Jack Shafer wisely taught us that bogus trend stories always do. (Shafer is now at Reuters, in fact.) 

Still, the numbers that the story was built on could just have easily been spun in the opposite direction, with a headline like, “Silicon Valley donors stand by Obama as Romney narrows gap elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, the Reuters piece glancingly touches on a question that I think would make for a far more interesting story. How do the presidential candidates’ actual tech policy proposals stack up? I’ll be looking into that more in future posts.