Internet Leaders Go For Gore A FORTUNE poll of the new economy's top managers gives the Vice President a wide lead over Texas Governor George W. Bush.
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Top executives of the nation's most prominent Internet and e-commerce companies prefer Al Gore over George W. Bush as the next President. That's the chief and most surprising conclusion of a new FORTUNE poll that surveyed senior executives of FORTUNE's e-50 firms.

The result is unprecedented. Corporate leaders are almost invariably Republican. "In 13 years of surveying executives for FORTUNE," says Greg Martire of the polling firm Clark Martire & Bartolomeo, "this is the first time that the Republican candidate hasn't been preferred." Even Gore aides are surprised. Despite all the hype about the Vice President's ties to the high-tech world, Democratic strategists have always assumed that most corporate managers are GOPers. Told that FORTUNE was polling e-executives, a senior Gore advisor said he would be amazed if the result didn't heavily favor Bush. The higher a person's income, he noted, the more Republican he tends to be.

But the e-50 execs questioned (who are among the top ten employees at their companies) are clearly a different breed: younger, less entrenched in business, and more willing to take risks than typical managers. They are also political mavericks. According to our telephone poll, which was completed before any of the presidential debates, 53% favor Gore, and only 30% back Bush. Another 13% are undecided, and 4% support another candidate. By comparison, the CEOs of FORTUNE 1,000 companies have been overwhelmingly pro-Bush. When we polled them in late January, Gore won the approval of only 3%; Bush got 70%, with 10% each for John McCain and Bill Bradley. The new e-50 survey carries even more bad news for Bush. Nearly half the Gore supporters say they've gotten more enthusiastic about their man in the past few months, vs. just 13% of Bush backers. Nearly a third of Bush's advocates say they are less enthusiastic than they once were, vs. 5% of Gore's backers.

These executives have a peculiar mix of public-policy priorities. Their top two issues would almost uniquely benefit them: increasing immigration quotas for high-tech workers (which Congress just approved this year) and maintaining financial accounting standards that highly value in-process research and development and other intangible assets. They also share a taste with the rest of corporate America for free trade. They give only moderate weight to government-paid education and training initiatives, which have been a top issue for such old-line organizations as the Business Roundtable. In an even bigger departure, few of those polled care whether Uncle Sam pays for more basic research.