In 2012, a young Uber tried to squeeze itself into the presidential election hype by launching a "Freedom rides" promotion for new users. This election cycle, the $40 billion startup is in the crosshairs -- as a proxy for Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls to argue their ideological differences.
The first of this came Monday morning when Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton alluded to Uber in a speech outlining her economic vision. Though Clinton praised the on-demand economy for its innovation, she criticized companies like Uber for classifying its drivers as independent contractors and denying them basic benefits like health insurance and sick leave. Clinton, who is building her economic platform around raising middle class incomes, said she "vows to crack down on employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors," TechCrunch reported.
Republican candidate Jeb Bush, meanwhile, is also expected to use Uber as a way to drive home his economic ideas later this week. Politico wrote that Bush will ride in an Uber vehicle during a San Francisco visit Thursday and use the company as an example of the competitive advantage the tech industry gives to the U.S. Bush also will argue that the government shouldn't meddle with that innovation, calling that Clinton's plan.
For Uber and the rest of the sharing economy, this is a tricky spot. Sure, getting a shout-out by presidential candidates here and there can be good for marketing, but becoming the face of everything that is wrong with the economy in the eyes of one party and everything that is right in the eyes of another is not an ideal situation. At worst, being bashed by someone with Clinton's influence could persuade some regular users into trying a different service for no reason other than their political leanings.
Fortunately for Uber, the company has some formidable political minds on its staff (yes, Uber does employ some people), having hired Obama 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe last year. At the very least, it'll be interesting to see how the company deals with being dragged into the 2016 presidential election.