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Publications Jul 2017

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Political Machinery: Automation Anxiety and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election


Was the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election a riot against machines by democratic means? Throughout history, technological breakthroughs have created new prospects of comfort and prosperity for mankind at large but it has equally left plenty to “vegetate in the backwaters of the stream of progress.” During the days of the British Industrial Revolution a sizable share of the workforce was left worse off by almost any measure. The result was a series of riots against machines. In similar fashion, the Computer Revolution has caused many workers in middle-income routine jobs to shift into low-income jobs or non-employment. Against this background, the papers authors examine if groups in the labor market that have lost to technological change are more likely to opt for radical political change. Pitching automation against a host of alternative explanation—including workers exposure to globalization, immigration, manufacturing decline, etc.—the authors find robust evidence of a relationship between electoral districts exposure to automation and their share of voters supporting Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election. Additional estimates suggest that the support was particularly high in areas characterized by low-educated males in routine jobs. These findings speak to the general perception that low-skilled male workers in routine jobs have been the prime victims of the Computer Revolution, leading them to rage against machines.


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Carl Benedikt Frey
Chinchih Chen
Thor Berger

Type: Academic Publication