New ITIF Report Catalogues Trump-Biden Differences on Tech Policy

September 28, 2020

WASHINGTON—Technological innovation is critical to income growth and national competitiveness, so it is an essential issue to weigh in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. A new report released today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the world’s top-ranked think tank for science and technology policy, takes a close look at the two major-party candidates’ policy agendas and examines a range of tech-related issues—from the digital economy to trade policy, advanced manufacturing, life science, and clean energy.

The report finds that President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have very different approaches to technology and innovation policy—Trump focusing more on reducing government barriers in the economy, and Biden focusing on a more active role for government.

“Technological innovation is a key factor in achieving virtually all of America’s most important goals—improving public health, strengthening national security, improving competitiveness, ensuring robust increases in living standards, and addressing climate change—so it should be near the center of the presidential debate,” says Robert Atkinson, ITIF’s president and lead author of the report. “The United States is at risk of losing out to China over the next decade or two, which could have serious implications for national security and U.S. power globally.”

The new report examines the candidates’ positions in 10 key policy areas related to technology and innovation, including:

  • Innovation and Research and Development (R&D)
  • Internet and Digital Economy
  • Broadband and Telecommunications
  • Education and Skills
  • Taxes
  • Regulation
  • Trade
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Life Sciences and Biotechnology
  • Clean Energy Innovation

The report also provides a summary of the candidates’ general philosophies toward technology and innovation policy.

Table 1: The candidates’ general philosophies toward technology and innovation policy



  • Has focused on reducing government barriers in the economy, including taxes and regulations that limit innovation.
  • Trump budgets have proposed increased funding for research in some technology areas, especially some emerging technologies, including AI, but also have sought to cut overall support for research.
  • Rejects Washington consensus on trade policy and focuses on being tough on China with a largely unilateral approach.
  • Budget proposals have cut funding for clean energy R&D.
  • Has pushed back against greater immigration, including H1-B and L1 workers.
  • For education and training, has pushed for less funding generally, but more support for apprenticeship programs. Also signed an executive order requiring the federal government to hire on the basis of capabilities, not degrees.
  • Supports increased investment in rural broadband infrastructure.
  • Embraces lighter regulations, lower business taxes, and a traditional consumer-welfare approach to antitrust—except for Internet platforms.
  • Supports limiting Section 230 protections and potential antitrust enforcement against major Internet platforms.
  • Policy approach formulated to engage government as both an active partner with industry in setting a technology agenda, particularly to achieve social goals, as well as a tougher regulator of many technology industries.
  • Has highlighted support for significantly increased public investment in R&D and advanced production.
  • Questions Washington consensus on trade and is focused on being tough with China—but supports a more multilateral approach than does Trump.
  • Supports massive increases in clean energy R&D funding.
  • Embraces the traditional Democratic position on immigration, which has supported increases in both high- and low-skill immigration.
  • Has proposed significant increases in public investment in education and skills.
  • Appears to support greater federal investment in rural broadband infrastructure than Trump.
  • Supports higher taxes on business, particularly large corporations; stronger regulations, including on privacy and broadband providers; and more aggressive antitrust enforcement, particularly on large Internet companies.
  • Supports limiting Section 230 protections and potential antitrust enforcement against major Internet platforms.

Akinson added: “Republicans have long focused on limiting or denying government’s contributions to U.S. innovation and competitiveness, but there has been significant progress in recent years as Republican lawmakers in particular have recognized government has an important role to play. We hope that trend continues. For their part, Democrats have traditionally been more willing to support innovation and competitiveness, but that appears to be changing, too, as progressives now seem more interested in reining in big companies and advancing social goals rather than pursuing a growth agenda. Government must develop and implement a coherent set of policies to advance innovation while eschewing policies that would limit innovation. Now more than ever, U.S. policymakers must work harder to develop a bipartisan consensus around the need to advance a serious and comprehensive competitiveness, innovation, and productivity strategy.”

Read the report.