There are more timely polls of California’s Republican presidential primary, and certainly surveys that are more statistically representative. But the informal straw poll of the Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women earlier this year is one of the more intriguing.
A surprising number of the organization’s members – many of them technology-orientated women, drawn from a corner of California where conservatives tend to have a libertarian bent – wanted Donald Trump in the White House.
“I was shocked,” said Jan Soule, the group’s president, who has worked in Silicon Valley marketing for 25 years. “We’d had someone speaking about Islam that night, and it was a larger group than most of our events, so maybe that had something to do with it, but I was shocked.”
The straw poll took place during a gathering in January, before the Iowa caucuses and at a point when when Florida senator Marco Rubio was still the race. He came in third, with 26% of the 115 women polled that night. Texas senator Ted Cruz was second, on 27%, while Trump won 33%.
Trump seems to have struck a chord with Bay Area Republicans. That could portend bad news for Cruz and Ohio governor John Kasich, the two remaining candidates seeking to stop Trump’s nomination.
California’s 7 June Republican primary, which looks set to determine the outcome of the race, apportions delegates on the basis of winners of congressional districts. That means the most liberal districts in the state, including some of those in Silicon Valley, could be the easiest for candidates to pick up delegates, because they require convincing a smaller number of overall voters.
At a meeting of the Republican women’s organization meeting in San Jose last week, the main topics of concern were immigration, the threat of terrorism from groups such as Isis and Obamacare.
Many of the women were retired from tech or married to people who worked in the industry, and said they admired Trump’s purported business acumen.
“When I weigh the candidates, I wanted an outsider. Trump’s not an ideologue. He’ll do what’s best for the country and free us from PC [political correctness],” said Lisa Marshik, an event chair and elected member of the Silicon Valley GOP group. “I don’t think he’s that conservative, but the core things he believes in are my cores: immigration, security. Trump will take names.”
Marshik insisted the straw poll showing Trump on top revealed how the group’s demographic backed the GOP frontrunner.
“No one was shocked by the poll,” she said. “We’ve coalesced.”
Trish Cypher, a member who who declined to say who she voted for, was also complimentary of the real estate developer.
“What Trump represents is the dark horse who knows what’s going on,” she said. “He looks like someone who might be on our side.”
Debra Janssen-Martinez, a Cruz supporter who once worked at Apple, said she would sneak off the company’s Cupertino campus for Republican events hoping no one would notice.
“If you’re a Republican at Apple, you keep your politics to yourself,” she said, adding that she nonetheless believed big tech companies were in fact more suited to her ideology.
“Apple is totally capitalist. [It is] the most ruthless, competitive company.”
She added that for its liberal values, the company had a poor record when it came to diversity.
“They say conservatives are the racist ones, but it’s the opposite. Do you know how few black people are on that Apple campus?”
The Silicon Valley Association of Republican Women was founded in 1964, originally as as the Los Gatos Republican Women’s Group, following the defeat of Barry Goldwater. Membership has ebbed and flowed, and a decade ago meetings comprised of a handful of people in a living room.
Being a Republican isn’t easy for these Silicon Valley women, who live and work in a predominantly Democratic part of California. The group briefly considered changing its name to Conservative Women of Silicon Valley, in a bid to be more inclusive.
The group’s ranks have swelled in recent years, particularly as the 2016 election has renewed interest in national politics. Soule said many of the her new members have turned out to be Trump enthusiasts. “In all the time I’ve been involved, California’s never counted in a primary, but now it does because of Trump,” Soule said. “Trump’s raised the bar. He’s gotten a lot more people excited about the election.”
Why does he appeal to Silicon Valley?
“I think it’s because Trump is successful in business,” Soule said. “That means a lot here.”