The political consequences of digital futures at work

7 June 2023



Bruno Palier and Zhen Im present findings from their work exploring the political consequences of the digital transformation of work followed by a discussion.

The new cleavages and classes in the digital age – Bruno Palier

Advanced capitalist democracies have undergone deep changes over the past thirty years, described as a transition to a knowledge-based economy, accelerated by digitalisation of economic processes and activities. If a lot of work has been devoted to the new post-industrial social classes, one still needs to understand the main cleavages that are structuring the classes in the 21st Century. We suggest that three main classes are in conflict: the lower middle class that was central in the industrial age, which is shrinking and shouting, the new educated middle class, winners of globalisation, digitalisation and knowledge-based economy, whose productivity and way of life is relying on the exploitation of the new service proletariat, the emerging new class of the digitalised knowledge-based economy.

The “losers of automation”: A reservoir of votes for the radical right? – Zhen Jie Im, Nonna Mayer, Bruno Palier, Jan Rovny

We present a study on the association between the risk of automation and vote choice in 11 West European countries.  We extend upon labour economics literature on the effects of automation on the labour market by focusing on the political consequences of automation. We also build on existing work relating labour market risks to support for radical right parties. We argue that automation threat is most likely to increase support for radical right parties not amongst the worst off, but among those who are still “just about managing” economically but not necessarily social status-wise. Using cross-sectional individual level data drawn from the European Social Survey (Rounds 6, 7 and 8), we find that individuals who perceive themselves as “coping on present income” are significantly more likely to vote for radical right parties as their risk of automation increases. They are also less likely to vote for major right parties.


Bruno Palier is CNRS Research Director at Sciences Po, Centre d’études européennes. Trained in social science, he has a PHD in Political science and is a former student of Ecole normale supérieure. He is studying welfare state reforms in the world. He was director of LIEPP (Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Evaluation of Public Policies) between 2014 and 2020.

He has published numerous articles in international Journals such as Global Social Policy, Governance, Journal of European Social Policy, New Political Economy, Politics and Society, Research and Politics, Socio-Economic Review, West European Politics, Social Policy and administration, Social Politics, and various books.

In 2022, he co-edited with Julian Garritzmann and Silja Häusermann the two volumes of The World Politics of Social Investment, Oxford University Press. In 2021, he co-edited with Anke Hassel Growth and Welfare in Advanced Capitalist Economies, Oxford University Press. In 2019, he co-organized a special issue of research and Politics on « The Political Consequences of Technological Change ». In 2018, he co-edited Welfare democracies and party politics: Explaining electoral dynamics in times of changing welfare capitalism (with Philip Manow and Hanna Schwander), published by Oxford University Press. In 2012, he co-edited The Age of Dualization: The Changing Face of Inequality in Deindustrializing Societies. (with Patrick Emmenegger, Silja Häusermann and Martin Seeleib-Kaiser), Oxford University Press, and Towards a social investment welfare state? Ideas, Policies and Challenges, (with Nathalie Morel and Joakim Palme) Policy Press. In 2010, he edited A long Good Bye to Bismarck? The Politics of Welfare Reforms in Continental Europe, Amsterdam university Press. In 2007, he co-edited with Claude Martin a special issue of Social Policy and Administration, on “Comparing welfare reforms in Continental Europe”, in 2006, Changing France (with Pepper Culpepper et Peter Hall), Palgrave and in 2001, Globalization and European Welfare states: challenges and changes (with Rob S. Sykes and Pauline Prior) Palgrave.

Zhen Im is a postdoctoral researcher at Copenhagen Business School’s Department of International Economics, Government and Business and is also affiliated with the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki (profile). He is interested in the political consequences of unequal socioeconomic outcomes from labour market shocks such as workplace automation and job offshoring, and more recently the Green Transition. He also examines how social policies may moderate such political consequences. In particular, he is interested in how social policies may mitigate or worsen labour market costs from such transformations which then has knock-on effects on politics.

Further reading

Kurer, T. and Palier, B. (2019) ‘Shrinking and shouting: the political revolt of the declining middle in times of employment polarization’
Palier, B. (2020) ‘”Brains” and their “Servants”: The New Class Domination’
Im, Z. J., Mayer, N., Palier, B., Rovny, J. (2019) ‘The “losers of automation”: A reservoir of votes for the radical right?’