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Sunday, April 24, 2022

Individual vulnerability to industrial robot adoption increases support for the radical right

Anelli, M., Colantone, I., & Stanig, P. 
(2021). PNAS, 118(47), e2111611118.


The success of radical-right parties across western Europe has generated much concern. These parties propose making borders less permeable, oppose ethnic diversity, and often express impatience with the institutions of representative democracy. Part of their recent success has been shown to be driven by structural economic changes, such as globalization, which triggers distributional consequences that, in turn, translate into voting behavior. We ask what are the political consequences of a different structural change: robotization of manufacturing. We propose a measure of individual exposure to automation and show that individuals more vulnerable to negative consequences of automation tend to display more support for the radical right. Automation exposure raises support for the radical left too, but to a significantly lower extent.


The increasing success of populist and radical-right parties is one of the most remarkable developments in the politics of advanced democracies. We investigate the impact of industrial robot adoption on individual voting behavior in 13 western European countries between 1999 and 2015. We argue for the importance of the distributional consequences triggered by automation, which generates winners and losers also within a given geographic area. Analysis that exploits only cross-regional variation in the incidence of robot adoption might miss important facets of this process. In fact, patterns in individual indicators of economic distress and political dissatisfaction are masked in regional-level analysis, but can be clearly detected by exploiting individual-level variation. We argue that traditional measures of individual exposure to automation based on the current occupation of respondents are potentially contaminated by the consequences of automation itself, due to direct and indirect occupational displacement. We introduce a measure of individual exposure to automation that combines three elements: 1) estimates of occupational probabilities based on employment patterns prevailing in the preautomation historical labor market, 2) occupation-specific automatability scores, and 3) the pace of robot adoption in a given country and year. We find that individuals more exposed to automation tend to display higher support for the radical right. This result is robust to controlling for several other drivers of radical-right support identified by earlier literature: nativism, status threat, cultural traditionalism, and globalization. We also find evidence of significant interplay between automation and these other drivers.


We study the effects of robot adoption on voting behavior in western Europe. We find that higher exposure to automation increases support for radical-right parties. We argue that an individual-level analysis of vulnerability to automation is required, given the prominent role played by the distributional effects of automation unfolding within geographic areas. We also argue that measures of automation exposure based on an individual’s current occupation, as used in previous studies, are potentially problematic, due to direct and indirect displacement induced by automation. We then propose an approach that combines individual observable features with historical labor-market data. Our paper provides further evidence on the material drivers behind the increasing support for the radical right. At the same time, it takes into account the role of cultural factors and shows evidence of their interplay with automation in explaining the political realignment witnessed by advanced Western democracies.