A new working paper from Oxford University’s Martin School has provided the first evidence that automation was the key to Donald Trump’s election victory.
Data revealed that the share of votes for Trump increased by roughly ten percentage points in areas highest hit by job loss through automation, causing anxiety amongst voters and favouring candidates with more reformist manifestos.
The study, dubbed Political Machinery: Automation Anxiety and the 2016 US Presidential Election, found victims of the Computer Revolution were more likely to opt for radical political change, with workers exposed to automation having a higher propensity to vote for Donald Trump even when controlling for a variety of alternative explanations.
The economic trends since the Computer Revolution have been strikingly similar to those of the British Industrial Revolution when workers rioted against machines.
That suggests that countries most exposed to automation in the future are already the most politically unstable.
Leaders in politically unstable countries are particularly likely to view automation as a destabilising factor, which they might seek to restrict as Trump did as part of his election rhetoric.
The research paper examined if groups in the labour market that have lost to automation were more likely to opt for radical political change.
Pitching automation against a host of alternative explanation—including workers exposure to globalisation, immigration, manufacturing decline, etc.—the study showed that electoral districts with a greater exposure to automation were substantially more likely to support Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.
Examining workers exposure to automation across electoral districts in the United States, authors Carl Benedikt Frey, Thor Berger and Chinchih Chen found that a five percentage points increase in the share of jobs in which workers have lost to automation in the past is associated with an increase in the share voting for Donald Trump in 2016 by roughly ten percentage points.
Dr. Frey, Oxford Martin Citi Fellow and Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment, said the data provided the first hard evidence of the impact of automation on political outcomes.
“Our study suggests that automation has been the real cause of voters concern”, he said. “The prime victims of the Computer Revolution (the period starting with the arrival of the personal computer in the 1980s, through to the development of the internet in the 1990s) want anything but the status quo. The populist rebellion in America, Europe, and elsewhere, has many causes, but workers’ losing out to technology is seemingly the main reason.”
Looking forward, Dr. Frey believes that we are only at the early beginnings of the automation challenge: “47 percent of jobs in the United States are at risk of automation in the near future as a result of recent developments in artificial intelligence. The way the industrial revolution transformed manufacturing, a “de-industrial revolution” is underway that is promising to revolutionize services in similar fashion,” Dr. Frey said. As more and more jobs become exposed to automation, further political rebellion is likely, unless we make sure that the benefits of automation become more widely shared.”