Research Brief

Pro-worker ideas in political manifestos linked to more votes

Flat illustration depicting tiny people engaging in discourse and voting.
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Every election cycle, political parties strive to connect with voters. Focusing on pro-worker ideas — such as improving work conditions or increasing jobs — could be a winning move, according to new research from the University of Minnesota.

A recent paper in Industrial Relations, co-authored by Carlson School of Management Professor John Budd and Professor J. Ryan Lamare of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, analyzes the use of pro-worker and anti-union statements in political manifestos. Manifestos help voters, policymakers and politicians better understand the party’s platform.

After reviewing the Comparative Manifesto Project — a database of 4,529 manifestos written by 1,132 parties from 54 countries from 1945 to 2019 — the researchers determined:

  • A greater amount of pro-worker ideas in a party’s manifesto is linked to that party receiving higher vote percentages and legislative seat shares during elections.
  • When there’s a single-party majority, pro-worker issues are significantly less likely to be mentioned in a manifesto.
  • Past elections were a factor. The researchers determined a greater number of pro-worker mentions made by that party and competing parties in the previous election strongly predicted more mentions in the current election.
  • Far-right parties are less likely to include pro-worker issues, choosing to emphasize other ideas on their platform.

“Manifesto ideas about work matter and, ultimately, pro-worker themes are rewarded with votes,” said Budd. “This likely arises when there’s a combination of frustrated workers, who want to see change, and political parties trying to acknowledge that frustration by pledging to improve the situation.”


Globally and in the U.S., the importance of pro-worker statements bottomed out in the 1990s, but has since increased. In 2020, the fraction of the Democratic Party manifesto devoted to pro-worker statements was 3.5 times greater than in the Republican Party manifesto. Further, only Republican Party manifestos in the U.S. have had anti-union statements, appearing about 75% of the time. 

“Past trends can help predict future strategies,” said Budd. “For example, the last three Democratic presidents seeking re-election all increased their share of pro-worker content relative to their first term. If he chose to run again, President Joe Biden would likely do the same.”

The results also indirectly support three sources of manifesto content: reiteration of long-standing ideological principles, leadership desires to go in new directions and telling supporters what they want to hear. 

“Since our research spans a long period of time, we can look beyond episodic times of crisis and determine what the enduring nature of ideas are within parties across a variety of countries,” said Budd. “This framework could be useful for understanding the public positions taken by employers’ associations, corporations, labor unions, and other institutions.”
 

About the Carlson School of Management
Located on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, the Carlson School of Management exemplifies a commitment to excellence through a focus on experiential learning and international education, and by maintaining strong ties with the Minneapolis/Saint Paul business community. Through its undergraduate and graduate programs, the Carlson School offers access to world-renowned faculty members and an alumni network of 55,000 people. Learn more at carlsonschool.umn.edu.

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