The introduction of robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence in modern manufacturing has had its share of both negative and positive effects. While robots have increased efficiency in production, they have taken away jobs in most parts of the world. The US is one of the countries that have been adopting robotics in manufacturing.
But automated machines in manufacturing have taken away jobs in America and when you assess where this has had the biggest impact, you will clearly see that central states that form the base of US manufacturing have been adversely affected.
But how does this have any bearing on Trump’s victory?
Experts argue that technological developments, especially in the manufacturing industry, have helped drive voters towards the right. A report published in March 2017 noted that introduction of one robot per 1,000 workers reduced employment to population ratio by between 0.18 and 0.34 percentage points. The robots also reduced wages by between 0.25 and 0.5 percentage points.
Robots have largely been used in automotive manufacturing and their effects have mostly affected men compared to women. Workers who lack college degrees bear the biggest loss in terms of wages. But from a political standpoint, the industrial workers who have had to bear the biggest costs due to industrial automation fit perfectly to the demographic of Trump’s core support base which largely includes white non-college male voters.
A survey done by the Pew Research Center noted that support for Trump among this demographic surged massively between 2012 and 2016. Voting patterns among white Americans have also changed since Trump came to the fold. Studies show that support for Trump among white Americans with college degrees fell by 11% compared to Mitt Romney. However, support for Trump among white Americans without college degrees went up by 12%. This has been attributed to an increase in workplace robots.
But this is not the only factor that’s driving voters to the right. In communities where industrial jobs were lost due to growing imports from China, a big portion of voters has started to lean to the right. A paper titled “Importing Political Polarization: The Electoral Consequence of Trade Exposure” by David Autor suggested that trade exposure was a big factor in catalyzing movement towards the Conservative Party between 2002 and 2010.
All these gains have benefited hard right Republicans at the expense of moderate ones and Democratic incumbents. The paper concluded that trade shocks that are affecting industries traditionally dominated by white men have had the biggest effect in pushing people towards the right.
These are a few of the facts that could explain the rapid rise in populist right-wing politics. The findings also appear to downplay a tendency, especially in the liberal media to portray Trump supporters as people who are only driven by cultural dislocation and racial resentment.
There are real economic factors that are emboldening the far-right and Trump’s core support base. Trump’s voters in the general election and in the primaries came disproportionately from the less educated white males in America, the same demographic that remains the most vulnerable to the economic dislocation caused by industrial automation.