Will Obama take a bite of Apple?

Last Friday morning, shares of Apple traded above $600 for the first time ever. It was pretty much all the financial community could talk about the rest of the day. As an Apple shareholder, I tuned to CNBC in the late afternoon to catch the chatter. What I heard was flabbergasting. An anchor, interviewing various analysts who follow tech stocks, kept asking the absurd question, “Is it time to break up Apple?” What? Why?

A quick Internet search suggests that this interventionist nonsense is not yet widespread. The only direct appeal for such, made in 2011 by a tech columnist, called for parts of Apple to be severed in retaliation for patent lawsuits the company was filing, not because Apple was succeeding in the marketplace. Of course, I found other liberal assaults on Apple, from critiques of its handling of subcontractors’ treatment of employees to protests that Apple is hoarding profits overseas to avoid U.S. taxation. While Apple products might have once been the favored gadgets of the left, the company is fast becoming a whipping boy for liberals who want more regulation and higher taxes on successful companies. It won’t be long before more liberal Democrats like Obama rally to the call to break up Apple. 

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Whenever products and services become ubiquitous, Democratic consumers and voters start treating them as public assets that should be politicized and placed under the thumb of the state, “publicized,” the inverse of privatized. Investor-owned utilities and regulated industries like airlines know the syndrome. Democrats become “Miss Bossypants.” They write their elected officials complaining about rates or fares or business practices. As an example of this syndrome, consider a poll recently spotted on inhabitat.com, a “progressive” website. The poll asked, “Would you boycott Apple products until they improve working conditions in China?” The answers were: 1) Yes, Apple knowingly allowed for abuse of workers and needs to be sent a message; 2) No, Apple is no worse than any other electronics maker; 3) No, Apple should do more to protect workers but I could not live without my iGadget. (I surmise that “No, Apple’s business practices are none of my business” would have been politically incorrect.) “Yes” was the runaway winner of the poll, garnering 63 percent of the 654 left-leaning respondents participating. Heck, breaking up Apple might not be enough for these critics; only a shutdown might appease them. That a nationwide poll of 12,961 Americans taken last December by Harris Interactive declared that Apple is now our most respected corporation, leading longtime icons like Coca-Cola and Kraft, evidently doesn’t mean anything to liberal critics.

The eventual Republican nominee must cast a spotlight on Democrats like Obama who want to intrude on successful and profitable businesses like Apple. Polls taken by Gallup, Pew, Princeton Survey Research and CBS News since 2010 all demonstrate clearly that most Americans have turned against excessive government meddling and regulation in business affairs. But Democrats don’t agree. According to February 2012 Pew surveys, a solid 57 percent majority of Democrats believe that “government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public.” Republicans and independents say, “It usually does more harm than good.” Democrats also express more enthusiasm for government immersing itself in Internet privacy issues, something that both Republicans and independents do not favor. Although it’s not been polled by any of these firms, I’ll bet a majority of Democrats want to tax Apple’s profits held in foreign banks. 

A 2011 Princeton Survey Research Associates poll found a plurality of Americans believing that Obama appointees at places like the EPA and SEC will go too far in regulating business and hurt the economy. Republicans running this year must press that message. Winners like Apple shouldn’t be hassled by more regulations or taxes.

David Hill is a pollster that has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.