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Social Media Savvy and Tech Sector Support May Help Win The White House - So Does Romney or Obama Have the Tech Edge?

We are no longer looking at which side is more tech friendly, but instead we ask which side can convert online engagement to offline action."

Social media savvy and support of the tech sector aren't key talking points in a presidential race focused on the economy, but those issues may nonetheless play a key role in deciding who occupies the White House next year.

Back in 2008, technology and social media played a much more prominent role in getting President Barack Obama's message out and showing him to be a more hip and connected candidate than Senator John McCain. Given that the tech sector can be relatively bipartisan from a jobs, innovation and security standpoint, those in the industry are eager to hear how their issues will be addressed by both candidates.

The tech sector is expected to grow 29 percent in the U.S. by 2020 - but would that be better under four more years of Obama or with Mitt Romney in the White House?

When it comes to social media and an overall online presence, President Barack Obama appears to be leading the charge -- as he did in the 2008 election. Twitter's "Political Index," which measures the tone of Twitter users regarding the candidates, confirms this to be the case.

Anthony Rotolo, professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University who is teaching a class this semester called "Social Media and the 2012 Election", said that although the Obama campaign may have a head start on social media technology in terms of reputation, he believes the gap has closed.

"The Republican efforts to recover and rebuild for the 2010 midterm election often prioritized social media and online organization, with a tremendous amount of tech activity coming out of the Tea Party movement," Rotolo said in an email to TheBlaze. "By 2012, the combined efforts of the establishment GOP and the Tea Party had erased the tech advantage once enjoyed by Obama/Biden. The Romney/Ryan campaign seems to be starting on a level playing field in 2012. We are no longer looking at which side is more tech friendly, but instead we ask which side can convert online engagement to offline action."

From a policy and innovation standpoint though, in talking with stakeholders in the industry, it is clear both sides are waiting for some attention that could influence their decision either way.

From the policy angle, Dave Aitel, CEO of the ethical hacking firm Immunity, Inc., said Obama seems to be the best positioned, but that is not to say the Romney camp doesn't have the opportunity to position itself well in the tech industry should it choose to do so.

The example Aitel uses are the past opinions of the politicians on the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). He told TheBlaze that Obama was against these copyright regulations, which some believed would lead to Internet censorship, while Romney's running mate Rep. Paul Ryan was in favor of SOPA before stepping on the bandwagon against the bill later. And even though these bills have been dead in the water since the Internet blackout launched against them in March, Aitel said he expects iterations of them will come back more in the form of international treaties.

This is where Aitel thinks Romney would have an opportunity to position himself well in the tech community regarding copyright law.

Rotolo with Syracuse University seconded this sentiment saying "both campaigns are defenders of the Internet in theory." He does note that Obama could "in the minds of some techies" be ahead of Romney/Ryan for killing SOPA though.

Another issue close to the heart of the tech community and increasingly the American public as a whole, Aitel said, is privacy.

"Before Bin Laden died the public was willing to say 'whatever you have to do to kill this guy, do what you have to do,'" Aitel said. "Now, privacy concerns are back into the foreground."

Aitel said the tech community may consider Obama as similar to Bush when it comes to privacy infringing tactics used as part of the War on Terror.

"Privacy really has to be dealt with. We need to ask ourselves what we're really comfortable with the government having access to," Aitel said.

Expounding upon the sentiments of those in the tech industry from a business standpoint, the non-profit trade association for the IT sector CompTIA published the results of a poll of 300 professionals in July about their views on the presidential candidates. The majority of responses to many of the questions were "neither/not sure."

For example:

Q:  Who would do a better job as president regarding the following important information technology issues that face the US economy today?

Tax policies that promote innovation & jobs in the U.S. IT sector

Obama   38%

Romney   25%

Neither / Not Sure 37%

Access to capital to advance start-ups and business expansion

Obama   33%

Romney   30%

Neither / Not Sure 37%

Expansion of tech exports by U.S. small and medium sized IT businesses

Obama   34%

Romney   27%

Neither / Not Sure 39%

Promote STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math)

Obama   37%

Romney   25%

Neither / Not Sure 38%

Ensure privacy as part of broadband, online and mobile policy

Obama   32%

Romney   26%

Neither / Not Sure 42%

“As we gear up for the elections this fall, we’re finding that messages from the candidates have yet to resonate with the IT sector and the challenges and opportunities before the industry,” Todd Thibodeaux, president and chief executive officer, CompTIA, said in a statement. “Despite global economic uncertainties, the United States remains a leader in innovation, particularly in technology. Any candidate hoping to win the support of the industry will need to provide a stronger vision for how we retain and expand our leadership in this growing and vibrant IT sector.”

To TheBlaze, Thibodeaux explained that those in the tech just don't know where the candidates stand and noted that this industry plays an important part in the employment economy.

CompTIA's Vice President for Public Advocacy Liz Hyman said this puts both candidates in a decent position when vying for industry support.

"[It] presents the opportunity to both campaigns to address some of these issues," Hyman said.

These issues according to CompTIA would be supporting investments in the sector; improving the transition for students from high school into trade schools and the transition of established companies from one part of the industry to another; and supporting small businesses that aren't just start-ups.

A word thrown around in campaigns in conjunction with tech industry is "outsourced." This is one CompTIA wanted to clarify this year. Thibodeaux said that it is a misconception to think the majority of IT jobs are outsourced. He highlighted critical infrastructure and security as two areas where all the jobs are U.S. based.

"Physical IT infrastructure is not outsourced at all," Thibodeaux said.

On the flip side, bringing in strong technical minds that aren't U.S. citizens doesn't hurt the industry either, Hyman said.

"We are supportive of efforts where you attach a green card to a diploma," she said, noting support for the H1B visa program. "We want to train and keep them here."

Thibodeaux said the amount of jobs taken in the U.S. by those holding green cards in the tech industry is small compared to the total workforce numbers.

Overall, Thibodeaux said the benefit of the IT industry is that it is relatively bipartisan.

Bonus: What type of phone you own and what that says about you is often reviewed in polls and surveys. Obama uses a BlackBerry and Romney appears to use an iPhone (although this photo from earlier in the year suggests the higher tech smartphone is a new acquisition for the GOP). What do you think this hints at for each candidate?

One last thing…
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