Uber and the Presidential Race


Uber has officially become one of the focal topics for the upcoming presidential debate. Here's why.

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6 min read

With the 2016 presidential race in full swing, we’ve heard from front-running candidates about the usual suspects: economic growth, foreign policy, the military. But there’s a new divisive topic that wasn’t even a blip in the talking points four years ago: the sharing economy, of which Uber is the default face.

Sharing—and in particular, ride-sharing—isn’t just a special interest cause, and whether or not candidates patron sharing businesses isn’t just a “fun fact” about them, on par with their favorite restaurant and summer reading list. The sharing economy, and how and when to regulate it, might in fact become one of the biggest debatable issues this election season.

Whether or not you use ride-sharing services like Uber, as a voter you’ll need to know where you stand on the larger issues of regulation and workers’ rights, and you’ll need to know where your candidates stand, too, first for the primaries early next spring, and then of course for the main event in November 2016. This week marked most candidates’ first real economic policy speeches, and Quoted is here with a breakdown of where the parties stand on the sharing economy.

Republicans-vs-Democrats

Where Each Party Stands

It may come as a surprise that Republicans embrace Uber, and the sharing economy in general, more boisterously than Democrats do. After all, Uber’s main customer base is young, tech-savvy millennials—not exactly the typical Republican profile. But Uber’s fiercely independent, anti-regulation company line actually matches up quite well with the right’s “smaller government” agenda. Plus, hailing an Uber car on a smartphone makes Republicans seem a little more in touch with the younger generations.

Uber's main customer base is young, tech-savvy millennials.

While they might not, as a party, embrace Uber and the like without reservation, like Republicans have been doing so far, Democrats see the potential for economic growth and job opportunities in cities and towns across the nation with Uber and its competitors. However, we’ve seen legal battles over workers’ rights unfold from California to Seoul, and as the traditionally pro-labor party, Democrats must hedge their enthusiasm somewhat as they remind voters of the importance of government regulation and oversight to protect workers.

So, while both parties support the sharing economy on a whole, their reasons differ, and so far the front-running Republicans candidates haven’t expressed any big criticisms, while the Democratic candidates have been urging caution and oversight.

TALKING POINTS: Clinton vs. Bush, the 2015 edition

In her speeches this week, Hillary Clinton made it clear that while she supports the lofty aims of Uber and the like—flexible hours and scheduling, the opportunity to work as much or as little as one wants and hold other jobs—she urges caution in the move toward contract employees as opposed to full-time workers.

Speaking in general about companies who hire contractors (some of whom, like Uber, insist their workers aren’t even really employees), she said: “I’ll crack down on bosses who exploit employees by misclassifying them as contractors or even steal their wages. Fair pay and fair scheduling, paid family leave and earned sick days, child care are essential to our competitiveness and growth.” Notably, Clinton has yet to mention Uber specifically by name in any public speech.

From CBSNews Clinton also said the “So-called ‘gig’ economy” was “raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”

The gig economy raises questions about workplace protections.

Jeb Bush, meanwhile, has made no secret of his enthusiastic and unencumbered support of Uber and the sharing economy as a whole. Speaking this week, Bush made no such caveats about fair labor practices or worker protections. Bush even took an Uber car to a major speech this week in San Francisco.

In his speeches on the sharing economy, Bush focused more on the rights of businesses and business operators, as opposed to the rights of workers themselves. From CBSNews Bush said, “Big government liberals fundamentally can’t embrace digital innovation because it threatens the way they govern. They see car-sharing services as a threat to the local government taxicab cartels. They see food trucks and Airbnb as a threat to urban planning and the tax and fee racket that they’ve imposed on brick and mortar restaurants and hotels.”

More on other candidates particular sharing economy platforms can be found at the New York Times. And we expect much more to come from the presidential candidates about the sharing economy in the coming months.

UBER, THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE, AND THE REST OF US

For those of us who are Uber customers but do not work for the company, paying attention to what the drivers want can be helpful in forming an opinion about what regulations and oversight are, or are not, needed. An Uber driver named Agustin Cantu told the New York Times, “It is nice what Uber has done for a lot of people that need an extra job or an extra income, [but] it needs to have some regulations in terms of how they treat the drivers and how the drivers are perceived.”

Uber needs to have some regulations in terms of how drivers are treated.

Uber, for their part, seems to be playing both sides of the fence: from the New York Times: “We hope every campaign will make Uber the transportation option of choice for their staff,” said Matt McKenna, a spokesman for the company. Uber, he added, “is in all the early primary states as well as both convention cities.”

Are you surprised Uber has become such an important political topic? Tell us what you think about the presidential candidates’ positions on the sharing economy in the comments.