Not so Disruptive after All: How Workplace Digitalization Affects Political Preferences

Abstract

New digital technologies are transforming workplaces, with unequal economic consequences depending on workers’ skill set. Does digitalization also cause divergence in political preferences? Using an innovative empirical approach combining individuallevel panel data from the United Kingdom with a time-varying industry-level measure of digitalization, we first show that digitalization was economically beneficial for a majority of the labor force between 1997-2015. High-skilled workers did particularly well, they are the winners of digitalization. We then demonstrate that positive economic trajectories are mirrored in political preferences: Among high-skilled workers, exposure to digitalization increased voter turnout, support for the Conservatives, and support for the incumbent. An instrumental variable analysis, placebo tests and multiple robustness checks support our causal interpretation. The findings complement the dominant narrative of the "revenge of the left-behind": While digitalization undoubtedly eliminates some jobs and does produce losers, there is a large and often neglected group of winners of digitalization who positively react to economic modernization by supporting the status quo.