Widespread political dissatisfaction and the rise of populist parties have disrupted the politics of many post-industrial democracies. This dissertation asks to what extent occupational change and technological progress are responsible for the political turmoil we currently observe. The core ﬁnding is that relative shifts in societal standing, an inevitable consequence of a changing employment structure, are key to understanding contemporary politics: it is a perception of relative decline among politically powerful groups, not their impoverishment, that drives support for nationalist-populist movements.
This dissertation argues that we cannot understand the political repercussions of economic conditions in general – and occupational change in the age of automation in particular – without a clear distinction between absolute and relative economic decline. The empirical analysis demonstrates that these distinct experiences trigger diﬀerent political reactions: “surviving” in an increasingly hostile occupational environment mobilizes aﬀected citizens and increases the demand for identity politics, whereas actually becoming unemployed prompts an economic response. This ﬁnding has important policy implications: When relative decline rather than absolute economic hardship is behind the appeal of populist parties, the often-stated remedy of ‘more welfare’ will be an insuﬃcient response to cushion the negative societal and political byproducts of economic modernization.