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Airbnb’s plan to win over the DNC crowd is all about why Airbnb is good for the middle class

Starring Airbnb policy guy Chris Lehane and Uber adviser David Plouffe.

Clockwise from top left: Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Uber adviser David Plouffe, Airbnb policy chief Chris Lehane and political researcher David Binder.
Clockwise from top left: Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Uber adviser David Plouffe, Airbnb policy chief Chris Lehane and political researcher David Binder.

Michael Nutter, the former Democratic mayor of Philadelphia, has a 4.8 customer rating on Uber and says he’s a “heavy, heavy” user of sharing economy services.

In many ways, this is the perfect representation of how the Democratic Party establishment publicly talks about the sharing economy: “We like you. We really, really like you.”

And this budding romance was, more than any policy discussion or dissection of economic data, the dominant theme of a Tuesday morning panel at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, organized by Airbnb.

Nutter sat between Uber adviser (and ex-Obama ‘08 campaign manager) David Plouffe and Airbnb policy chief (and ex-Clinton White House adviser) Chris Lehane, two Democratic establishment stalwarts who made the jump to Silicon Valley in recent years.

For Airbnb, the panel was just one part of a broader push at the DNC, the goal of which is to win over more Democratic hearts and minds. And the company needs all the Democratic Party help it can get as its fight against anti-Airbnb lawmakers nationwide continues to intensify.

Additionally, the company is in the middle of a separate scandal over racial discrimination on its platform. For the most part, that issue went undiscussed.

What was very much discussed, however, were the findings of a new survey conducted by Airbnb and panelist/political research guy David Binder. The survey, released today, aims to show just how many people love Airbnb and the sharing economy.

And according to Binder’s and Airbnb’s research, Americans (especially millennials) love the sharing economy, they love Airbnb and, most importantly, they want Airbnb to be legal.

Serving as the panel’s avatar for the political community, Nutter did a lot of nodding and verbal affirmation of what Lehane and Plouffe said over the course of the roughly hour-long discussion.

“Millennials are looking for authenticity ... ideas, diversity and connection,” Lehane said. “To speak millennial, you ought to be talking about the sharing economy because it’s core and central to their economic future.”

On this point, Plouffe vociferously backed up Lehane, referring to the “Obama coalition” of voters that loves both the sitting president and sharing economy services.

“Very important elements of that Obama coalition really over-index” when using sharing economy services, according to Plouffe. “African and Latino users ... one of the reasons they use it, it’s really their only option.”

This is where Plouffe and Lehane pivoted to an argument for the sharing economy and their employers that draws heavily on the Democratic language of economic inequality.

“What are we gonna do about wage stagnation?” Plouffe asked, rhetorically. “[The sharing economy] is probably the most available way for people” to deal with that.

Lehane, for whom this line of argument is a key part of the Airbnb philosophy, added that “economic dislocation ... helped lead and catalyze the quote unquote sharing economy” by providing millions of middle-class people with supplemental income.

Of course, many people in Democratic politics argue that for all of the sharing economy carrots, there are some exceptionally large sticks.

In Uber’s case, it’s that the independently contracted drivers have little to no leverage with the company, and far fewer protections than standard employees. For Airbnb, the company is still wrestling with skepticism in the progressive wing of the Democratic party; Senator Elizabeth Warren recently asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into whether the service hurts constrained housing supplies in American cities.

But Lehane, knowing perhaps that the audience for this chat (including me, watching at home over a livestream) was bigger than just the DNC, made sure to throw in a couple more bipartisan-sounding gestures.

“In swing states and [cities like Denver and Miami] a lot of people are on the platform — overwhelmingly middle class people,” Lehane said. “Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you’re coming at the issue of economic inequality.”

Because for these users, Lehane argued, Airbnb offers “supplemental income for what has traditionally been an underutilized asset”: Their homes.

As the panel wound down, Plouffe’s iPhone started ringing and he announced that he had to go.

“That’s my Uber driver.”

This article originally appeared on

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