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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

People often blame immigration and trade for destroying American work, even though automation and technological change are far more likely to take away jobs in the coming years.

What's happening: In a first-of-its-kind experiment, an MIT political scientist tested whether informing people about potential job loss from automation would change their minds about immigration and trade.

  • In three studies, MIT's Baobao Zhang got the same result — people didn't shift their beliefs. Even when presented with evidence that automation was by far the more salient risk to jobs, people continued to hold anti-immigration, anti-trade views.
  • These findings suggest that support for populist Trumpian policies may not be as closely linked to economic anxiety as is often argued.

"Right-wing populism is not only an economic story," says Zhang. "Economic anxiety might not be the main driver for support for Donald Trump. For instance, it could be people feeling threatened by out-groups" like immigrants and foreign workers.

The big picture: This narrative has been around since President Trump won in 2016 on a wave of protectionist proposals — that largely white, middle- and low-income Americans living far from coastal wealth voted in their economic self-interest.

  • But a truly self-interested person, economists say, would focus on the automation, which could wipe out millions of jobs, rather than immigration or trade.
  • The MIT research, which has not yet been peer reviewed, found that learning about automation also didn't make people more likely to support retraining programs that experts say are essential to counterbalance the disruption.

Another root problem is that it's really, really hard to change people's minds, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Zhang previously studied reactions to information about climate change, an issue that remains polarizing despite scientific consensus.

"It may be that cultural factors play a substantial role in protectionist sentiments," says Darrell West, director of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings. "Workers may worry about immigrants taking their jobs as automation kicks in but also be concerned about what that will mean for American identity and the future of the country," he tells Axios.

Go deeper

New Jan. 6 body camera footage shows Trump supporters attacking officer

New body camera footage obtained by CNN shows the moment a DC police officer was brutally attacked by Trump supporters during the Capitol Hill insurrection.

Driving the news: The release of video comes a day after Republican members of Congress sought to downplay the Jan. 6 events, with some lawmakers calling the rioters "peaceful patriots" and comparing them to tourists.

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Liz Cheney's plan to take on Trump

Cheney speaking to reporters after being removed as GOP conference chair yesterday. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) plans to make her purge the beginning of a new movement, with campaign travel, fundraising and speeches to challenge Donald Trump for ideological dominance of the GOP.

Driving the news: Sources in Cheney's camp tell me her message will be the importance of the truth, the need to move past Trump, and a push to articulate conservative policy and substance to combat Democrats.

Exclusive: Stephen and Ayesha Curry join One Million Black Women initiative

Stephen Curry and Ayesha Curry. Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Stephen and Ayesha Curry are joining the advisory council for Goldman Sachs' One Million Black Women initiative, Axios is first to report.

Why it matters: The initiative has committed to invest more than $10 billion in Black women over the next 10 years. It comes as banks and large companies are increasingly putting money behind rhetoric about advancing racial equity.