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President Obama to Court Emerging Donor Class of the Democratic Party at SXSW

The Democratic Party's new donors: Tech workers.

Justin Sullivan / Getty

This morning, SXSW announced that President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will be appearing as keynote speakers at the Austin festival later this month.

Ostensibly, the president is speaking at SXSW Interactive (the tech-focused portion of the event) because it’s an opportunity to win the hearts and minds of tech and media industry insiders. This is likely true! But it’s not the main reason the president is making an appearance.

No, the main reason is about money, and who will be giving money to the Democratic Party in the future.

For starters, look at who has been giving money to Democratic candidates over the course of the presidential nomination fight. Though tech company-affiliated political action committees have given more money to Republicans by a 60-40 split, Silicon Valley employees have practically been falling over themselves to donate cash to Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. In the last three months of 2015, Sanders brought in $105,000 from tech employees, though Clinton raised way more cash there than Sanders over the course of the year.

Silicon Valley executives and kingmakers, however, have much more diverse tastes, politically speaking. Oracle founder Larry Ellison has long been in the tank for Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who was the top Republican fundraiser in Silicon Valley but who will probably soon drop out after a dismal Super Tuesday showing. Other members of the Silicon Valley elite skew Republican as well, which makes sense because rich people largely vote for Republicans.

Still, many of these corporate leaders and well-moneyed tech types aren’t representative of the political orientation of the industry’s rank and file.

In a 2012 election post mortem, Nate Silver crunched the fundraising numbers and found that among Google employees, President Obama “collected almost 97 percent of the money” donated to both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. At Apple that number was 91 percent, and at eBay it was 89 percent. Crowdpac data from 2014 further backs up Silver’s argument, which is essentially that the Silicon Valley professional class leans very heavily Democratic.

And a good number of those Democratic-tilting up-and-coming professional tech types will be at SXSW, where President Obama will likely begin to unfurl his post-presidency plans. He will probably explicitly argue for why attendees should back the Democratic nominee for the presidency, and he will implicitly make the case for why they should open their wallets to the nominee (and the party) as well.

The President will be interviewed onstage by Texas Tribune CEO and Editor in Chief Evan Smith on March 11, and First Lady Michelle Obama will deliver the opening keynote speech for SXSW Music on March 16. Details on how you can stream the talks have not yet been released.

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