skip to main content
caption: Jacob McCarthy is a software engineer at Amazon who supports Bernie Sanders for President
Enlarge Icon
Jacob McCarthy is a software engineer at Amazon who supports Bernie Sanders for President
Credit: KUOW / David Hyde

These Amazon workers love Sanders even if he trash-talks their company

When it comes to campaign contributions, Amazonians have a surprising pick among Democrats running for president: Bernie Sanders.

Seldom subtle, Sanders frequently blasts Amazon. Last year he sponsored a bill called the “Stop BEZOS Act.” The bill would require big companies including Amazon to pay 100 percent of the cost of any government assistance their employees receive, such as food stamps.

Sanders also has condemned Amazon on the issue of homelessness.

"Right now 500,000 Americans are sleeping out on the street,” Sanders said in a Democratic primary debate in January. And yet, Sanders added, "companies like Amazon that made billions in profits did not pay one nickel in federal income tax.”

Sanders also accused Amazon of mistreating workers at its fulfillment centers. Amazon called that “inaccurate and misleading.”

Amazon's top officials are paying attention.

In a New York Times op-ed published Monday titled "Why Bernie Sanders Praised Amazon," company spokesperson Jay Carney recalls the time Sanders called him to “thank Jeff Bezos” for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all of his employees.

But Sanders' criticism notwithstanding, Amazon campaign donors give him more — both nationally and in Washington state — than they give to any other Democrat in the presidential race.

Software engineer Jacob McCarthy, who lives in Seattle, is a Sanders supporter who is acutely aware of what you might call his “Amazon privilege.”

Last year, his spouse faced a series of costly emergency room visits due to unexplained vomiting. Their out-of-pocket costs were so high McCarthy realized they could never have afforded it if he didn’t have such a high-paying job at Amazon. As a result of this experience, “Medicare for All” is one of his top issues.

McCarthy also supports Sanders' proposals to tax the rich.

“I should be paying more tax,” he said.

And living in Seattle has only raised McCarthy’s awareness of the growing gap between rich and poor that Sanders talks so much about.

Younger software engineers at Amazon, like McCarthy, with annual salaries starting in six figures, have lived through a major boom in the tech industry.

“There’s the people in tech who thinks it's all fine, because it’s benefiting them, we’re making the money," McCarthy said. "But then you hear the other side from people who have lived in Seattle for a lot longer than most of the tech workers, and they can’t afford to live here."

McCarthy won't discuss Amazon specifically — company policy doesn't allow it. But he's open to proposals to break up big tech companies, which is something Sanders has said he “absolutely” supports.

Amazonians' second choice for contributions among the Democrats is candidate Elizabeth Warren, who is also highly critical of the company: Breaking up Amazon is one of her top issues. Warren argues Amazon's duel role as an online marketplace owner and manufacturer is just bad capitalism.

“The consequence is that Amazon, because of its superior information, can come in and knock out all of the competition,” Warren said.

Annabelle Backman, who works at Amazon, has donated around $3,000 to Warren, according to Federal Election Commission data.

Backman also won't talk about her employer, but had this to say about breaking up big tech: “Corporations are wielding a lot of power and have a lot of power over their employees. Transferring the power out of the hands of corporations and back into the power of the people is the right thing to do."

Backman said she supports Warren because she sees her as the best progressive candidate in the race.

“If you look at her plans, she's actually talking to, engaging with the people who are hurting the most,” she added.

What explains Amazon workers' support for the two candidates who blast their company the most? University of Washington Professor Margaret O'Mara, an expert on the history of the tech industry, sees a generational split.

“A lot of tech workers are young, they skew young, they're college educated, they have graduate degrees, and they tend to agree with more progressive candidates for office or a more progressive set of issues,” O’Mara said.

That said, it’s hard to generalize about the politics of such a giant company. Amazon now has nearly 800,000 employees across the United States, more than Seattle's entire population.

Other Democrats running for president also receiving money from Amazon employees include Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar.