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Publications Oct 2017

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Political Machinery: Did Robots Swing the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election?


Technology has created 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 as they lost their jobs to technology. The result was a series of riots against machines.

In a similar fashion, robots have recently reduced employment and wages in U.S. labour markets. Building on the intuition that voters who have lost out to technology are more likely to opt for radical political change, we examine if 'robots' shaped the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Pitching technology against a host of alternative explanations —including workers exposure to globalization, immigration, manufacturing decline, etc.—we document that the support for Donald Trump was significantly higher in local labour markets more exposed to the adoption of robots.

Other things equal, a counterfactual analysis shows that Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania would have swung in favour of the Hillary Clinton if robot adoption had been two percent lower over the investigated period, leaving the Democrats with a majority in the Electoral College.


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Carl Benedikt Frey
Chinchih Chen
Thor Berger

Type: Academic Publication