Technology Threats to Employment, Issues, and Candidate and Party Preferences in the United States

AuthorTobias Heinrich,Christopher Witko
Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211027658
Across affluent democracies, technologies, like automa-
tion and artificial intelligence, are imperiling many jobs
(Acemoglu and Restrepo 2020; Brynjolfsson and McAfee
2014; Haldane 2015; Muro 2016), nearly 50 percent of in
the United States, according to one estimate (Frey and
Osborne 2017).1 It is not surprising, then, that some stud-
ies find that greater vulnerability to technology-induced
job loss, or “TIJL,” is associated with candidate and party
preferences (Anelli, Colantone, and Stanig 2019; Frey,
Berger, and Chen 2018; Gingrich 2019; Im et al. 2019;
Thewissen and Rueda 2017). We still lack a good under-
standing of whether these associations are causal and
what exactly drives them, however.
How the public responds to TIJL is an important ques-
tion. Many studies examine how labor market threats
shape policy preferences and voting (Hacker, Rehm, and
Schlesinger 2013; Iversen 2001; Rehm 2011, 2016; Singer
2011; Wright 2012). In Europe, those with high exposure
to TIJL prefer mainstream left parties (Gingrich 2019) or
populist and far-right parties (Anelli, Colantone, and
Stanig 2019; Gingrich 2019; Im et al. 2019; Kurer 2020).
Frey, Berger, and Chen (2018) find that U.S. areas with
more workplace technology penetration disproportionately
supported Republican Donald Trump for president in
2016. Heinrich and Witko (2021) report that Europeans
who think technology can replace them prefer that the
government addresses economic over noneconomic
issues. Given this, it seems probable that individuals
exposed to technology will be more supportive of candi-
dates that prioritize the economy, unemployment, and
welfare state programs in their current campaigns
(Hacker, Rehm, and Schlesinger 2013; Singer 2011), or
candidates from parties with reputations for doing so
(Hibbs 1977; Wright 2012). Does the support for main-
stream left or right populist and far-right parties among
those exposed to technology reflect these parties’ empha-
sis on issues prioritized by vulnerable workers?
Most of the evidence of TIJL shaping priorities and
voting comes from observational studies in Europe, and
1027658PRQXXX10.1177/10659129211027658Political Research QuarterlyHeinrich and Witko
1University of South Carolina, Columbia, USA
2The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, USA
Corresponding Author:
Tobias Heinrich, Department of Political Science, University of South
Carolina, 817 Henderson Street, Columbia, SC 29208, USA.
Technology Threats to Employment,
Issues, and Candidate and Party
Preferences in the United States
Tobias Heinrich1 and Christopher Witko2
Research indicates that susceptibility to having one’s job replaced by technology is associated with candidate and
party preferences in affluent democracies, but there is little understanding of why. We investigate whether workers
exposed to technology are more supportive of candidates and parties that prioritize the economy, unemployment, and
welfare state programs, currently or with historical reputations for doing so. In the United States which we examine
here, however, technology threatening jobs has not been politically salient and partisan attachments are strong,
which could limit issue-based conversions in candidate preferences. To examine these possibilities, we use survey
experiments randomizing exposure to information about the individual-level threat of losing one’s job to technology
and hypothetical candidate issue priorities in experiments with and without party labels. We find that there are
some differences in “issue premiums” among high-exposure individuals in the party labels experiment, but whether
individuals are made aware of their exposure does not explain any issue-based variation in candidate preferences.
We also find that when made aware of their exposure to technology, high- and low-exposure Republicans and low-
exposure independents become slightly more supportive of Republican candidates.
technology, unemployment, automation, voting, elections, parties
2022, Vol. 75(3) 797–811

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