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Net Neutrality's Impact on the Midterms

By Brooke Starr | November 05, 2018

Technology policy has origins almost as far back as the founding of the country itself, while today the U.S has the largest tech market in the world, reaching $1.6 trillion in 2018. Tech policy, however, does not seem to be a pivotal issue in our nation when it comes to elections, although it has incredible importance to not only the economy, but also our daily lives in the form of the internet and social media. Roslyn Layton recently published, “Tech Policy and the Midterm Elections” for the American Enterprise Institute, arguing that although tech policy has deep roots in American policy, it does not seem to be a key driver in elections. She analyzes the potential effects of the net neutrality debate in particular.

In December of 2017, the FCC voted to repeal Obama-era Title II net neutrality issues, which led to a political frenzy and heinous attacks and threats against FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Since then, the left has been very vocal about “restoring internet freedom” and “protecting a free and open internet,” when, in reality, the net neutrality repeal has not done anything to harm internet freedom. Rather, it has enhanced consumer experience and promoted online innovation, instead of treating the internet like a public utility to be owned and operated by the government.  

This reaction to the repeal of net neutrality was surprising because, historically, tech policy has been fairly noncontroversial and bipartisan in nature. Ideally, tech policy would consist of a combination of bipartisan policy perspectives. However, during this election cycle, net neutrality has been a starkly partisan issue. With the midterms just a week away, there are many Democrats and left-leaning groups now centering their political ad campaigns around the Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to restore net neutrality. Democrats think this will prove to be a winning strategy among young voters especially. The group that cares about this issue, really care about it, and do not usually turn out to vote, so Democrats think they will be able to easily target this group and get them out to the polls this midterm cycle.

The ad campaigns that are being put out by the left are emphasizing, “drama over analysis with simplistic, good-versus-evil narratives and a binary all-or-nothing framing of the issues,” notes Layton. This will most likely not help the cause because, in reality, the majority of the U.S. population either has never even heard the term ‘net neutrality’ or does not know how to explain what it is. The only knowledge the public seems to receive about this issue, is from, “highly politicized stories about net neutrality dominating news coverage, whereas evidenced-based discussions on the topic are limited.”

Right now, the net neutrality campaigns are simply winning solidarity amongst the small population of people that are either already extremely passionate about the issue, or those that are easily won over by the polarizing ads. It’s questionable then whether or not they will turn out to vote based solely on this issue. Layton concludes by saying there is little evidence suggesting that it will have a measurable impact on the election, due to the relatively small size of the true tech policy audience at the moment. The fact of the matter is, compared to other issues facing the country, it is not on the majority of voters’ lists of priorities, especially not to the extent where it would influence their vote.

Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotni