Hillary Clinton would be president if there were fewer robots in the workplace, study says

Key Points
  • Clinton could have won the 2016 presidential election if it had not been for the number of robots in the labor market, researchers said
  • The Oxford University study found that workers whose jobs were at risk of automation were more likely to vote for Donald Trump
A robot organizing boxes in a factory.
Photo by Bloomberg

President Donald Trump might not have made it to the White House if the number of robots in the labor market wasn't as high, according to researchers.

A study by three Oxford University academics found that workers exposed to automation were more likely to vote for Trump than for than his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

"Automation has always been an engine of prosperity," Professor Carl Frey said in a statement Monday.

"But it can take a long time for the benefits to show, and workers who are not able to find better paid jobs are more likely to be hostile towards the new technology."

Three key states won by the president — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — could have swung in favor of Clinton, had robot adoption in the U.S. been just 2 percent lower, according to Frey's research.

Frey said: "This time around, things are very different in one important regard — ordinary workers are also voters, and if voters come to see automation as the cause of their misfortunes, they opt for a political system that restricts it and the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) may not be made possible."

Frey added that it was important to stress the benefits of automation to avoid a potential "backlash" against technology.

The professor said that 47 percent of jobs in the U.S. are at risk of automation due to the rise of artificial intelligence.

The research compared the rise of robots to that of Britain's Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, when workers known as "Luddites" rioted against the increasing use of machinery.

"The prime victims of the 'Robot Revolution' want anything but the status quo," Frey said. "The populist rebellion in America, Europe and elsewhere, has many causes, but workers' losing out to technology is seemingly the main reason."

CNBC has reached out to the White House for comment.