Driving Labor Apart: Climate Policy Backlash in the American Auto Corridor

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What are the electoral effects of green industrial policy? We argue that uncertainty about the distribution of benefits can give rise to voter backlash. We examine automobile manufacturing, where politicians and unions have promised that communities vulnerable to the electric vehicle (EV) transition will gain from new investments. Leveraging a matched difference-in-differences design, we find that growing EV transition salience caused Republican presidential vote share to increase by three percentage points in counties that produce gasoline vehicle components as compared to those that manufacture other auto parts. There is no backlash in counties that have received EV investments. Interviews with autoworkers and union leadership show how uncertainty about the EV transition affected political information provided by local unions. This bottom-up information provision helps to explain the diverging political reactions of organized labor to structural economic transformations and sheds light on electoral responses to climate policy.

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