A Democratic consulting firm backed by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt dismissed an employee after he publicly highlighted an academic study that linked violent race riots to historically diminished electoral support for Democrats.
Civis Analytics, a data firm employed by Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and launched with an investment from Schmidt, terminated data analyst David Shor after he wrote on Twitter about the peer-reviewed paper. That post triggered backlash and accusations of racism from some progressive activists, New York magazine reported this week.
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The study, by Princeton University professor Omar Wasow, who is African American, was published in the American Political Science Review last month. In it, Wasow provided evidence of a connection between protester violence during the civil rights movement and reduced support for Democratic candidates in elections.
Shor linked to the paper on May 28 and wrote, "Post-MLK-assassination race riots reduced Democratic vote share in surrounding counties by 2%, which was enough to tip the 1968 election to Nixon. Non-violent protests *increase* Dem vote, mainly by encouraging warm elite discourse and media coverage."
The post was met with angry responses and accusations of racism from left-wing activists, prompting Wasow’s wife, filmmaker Jennifer Brea, to come to Shor’s defense.
"This is wild. A data scientist, after tweeting about my [husband’s] work, was accused of anti-blackness and fired from his job," wrote Brea on Twitter. "Not for nothing, but Omar majored in Race & Ethnic Relations, co-founded BlackPlanet, got a Ph.D in African-American studies, and is black."
The Biden campaign has paid Civis $176,000 for "technology service" and "research" since 2019, according to Federal Election Commission reports. The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Schmidt has a history of financing companies to support Democratic causes and candidates. He was a backer of The Groundwork and Timshel, data startups run by former Obama campaign chief technology officer Michael Slaby that assisted Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. This election cycle, Schmidt has cohosted fundraisers for Biden and former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Activists had argued Shor’s accurate summary of the study was evidence of racism. "[W]hite dems to black people in 2020: ‘could you die more quietly? we have an election to win,’" wrote one critic. Ari Trujillo Wesler, the founder of a Democratic tech startup, called the post "tone deaf" and tweeted at Civis Analytics CEO and Obama administration alumnus Dan Wagner to "Come get your boy."
Shor issued an apology the next day, writing that he was not "an effective messenger of [Wasow’s] findings about the power of non-violent protest. I regret starting this conversation and will be much more careful moving forward." He was fired shortly after, according to New York magazine.
The magazine also reported that Shor is party to a non-disclosure agreement with Civis Analytics that prevents him from discussing the matter. Shor and Civis Analytics did not respond to a request for comment. Wasow did not respond to a request for comment.
In a June 4 statement on its website, Civis Analytics said it "stands with the Black community, and it’s time we confront the uncomfortable truths and emotions elicited by an honest examination of our society, and more importantly, ourselves."
The company vowed to "direct pro bono resources to assist organizations on the front lines fighting for Black communities," donate "$50,000 to social justice organizations," and "facilitate ongoing internal forums to discuss these critical issues."
Civis Analytics was founded by Wagner, a former senior Obama campaign aide, in 2013. Schmidt, an early investor in the company, sits on the Civis Analytics board.
The firm’s clients include the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Planned Parenthood, and the Progressive Turnout Project.