The Declining Middle: Political Reactions to Occupational Change

Thursday, July 13, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 356 (University of Glasgow)
Thomas Kurer , Institute of Political Science, University of Zurich
In recent decades, technological change has profoundly altered the employment structure of many advanced capitalist democracies. The most pervasive trend is a stark contraction in middle-skilled jobs dominated
 by repetitive routine tasks. Decreasing job opportunities in routine work confronts the lower middle class with unknown levels of economic vulnerability and threatens the sheltered position in society, which they have achieved and held during much of the post-war 20th century. What are the political consequences of these increasingly bleak perspectives for this crucial pillar of society? By drawing on panel data from Germany, Switzerland and the UK, I track individual occupational transition patterns and resulting changes in electoral behavior over time. Based on an inverse probability weighted (IPW) estimator, I demonstrate that it is fear of social decline rather than the actual experience of economic hardship that drives support for conservative and right-wing populist parties. Support for these parties withers as soon as voters leave their routine jobs — for the better or the worse. In contrast to widespread popular accounts, in the long-term, the “hollowing of the middle” is therefore not necessarily conductive to the success of right-wing populists.
  • DecliningMiddle_Kurer.pdf (413.5 kB)