Automation. Robots. They won Trump the election. That is the conclusion of a new working paper from Oxford University. Co-authored by Carl Benedikt Frey, the research finds correlations between job losses due to automation and votes for Donald Trump in last year’s US presidential election.
Frey is no stranger to the study of automation and its impact on society. Back in 2013 he published a report predicting that 47% of total US employment is at “high risk” of being replaced by automation over the next 10 or 20 years.
(That full report is available online – opens as a PDF.)
Four years later, some of those jobs have already been lost, and people are looking for someone to blame. The research paper, Political Machinery: Automation Anxiety and the 2016 US Presidential Election, examined if people who have lost their jobs to automation were more likely to vote for a candidate who promised fundamental political change.
Analysis of labour market conditions compared with voting patterns showed that the electoral districts where automation was more predominant were significantly more likely to vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
A five per cent increase in jobs lost to automation was associated with a 10 per cent increase in voter share for Donald Trump.
“Our study suggests that automation has been the real cause of voters concern,” Frey says. “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.”
Given his predictions that nearly half (47 per cent) of all current employment is thought to be at risk of automation, this is only the beginning of the resulting political ramifications. “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,” concluded Frey.
Anger over lost employment and fear of more losses to come leads people to vote for more radical change to the status quo. Hillary Clinton was just one more person to lose a job because of automation.