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Political Research Exchange - PRX

From Job Polarization to Political Discontent? The Political Implications of Technological Change

Political Participation
Political Psychology
Political Engagement
Aina Gallego
Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals – IBEI
Aina Gallego
Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals – IBEI
Thomas Kurer
University of Zurich

Despite a very lively academic and public debate about the potentially disruptive transformation of workplaces due to digitalization and automation, we know little about the political consequences of technological change. Do citizens in workplaces undergoing rapid digitalization change their political attitudes and behavior? We study the impact of digitalization on the political attitudes of workers in the UK. Unlike previous studies that use occupational data as proxies of risk, we collect indicators of ICT capital stocks at the industry level, a more direct measure of digitalization, and merge them with individual-level panel data from the British Household Panel Study and the Understanding Society surveys between 1997 and 2013. First, we confirm that digitalization produces polarization in labor market outcomes between highly and less educated workers. Next, we document similar divergence in political outcomes. Digitalization is associated with higher turnout for highly skilled workers. Among workers with low education levels, digitalization reduces turnout and support for the Labour Party, and increases support for UKIP. Our analyses suggest that the ongoing wave of technological change may be contributing to the increasing political discontent of unskilled workers, the political divergence between urban technological hubs and left-behind territories, and to the rise of protest politics.
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