Tracking the Political Impact of Where Workers Live

Frank Newport

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Workers are talking more about politics since Donald Trump's election, but relatively few say this discussion has negatively affected their ability to do work. Among the few who say it is affecting their work, Democrats are more likely to say political discussion is having a negative effect than a positive one, while Republicans are more evenly split.

What about the impact of the environment in which the worker works? It seems possible that workers who live in an area that is politically different from their own politics might be having a harder time of it at work -- having to live with a political orientation that is out of sync with their prevailing political tendencies.

That's what we found -- to a degree. The overall political environment of the county in which a worker lives appears to affect Republicans differently than Democrats. Republicans tend to be more worried about their political views at work if they live in a county that tilts Democratic. Democrats, on the other hand, seem immune to their political environment. Their worry about the effect of their personal politics in the workplace is about the same regardless of the political makeup of their county.

We don't have a direct measure of the political environment of an employee's workplace. So we base these findings on a political variable describing each county in the U.S. based on the presidential vote in 2016 -- from counties that went strongly for Hillary Clinton to those that went strongly for Trump. This is a fairly indirect measure. It's possible that workers in highly Republican areas could actually work in more liberal workplaces, and there are, no doubt, conservative workplaces in heavily Democratic areas. But our general assumption is that the presidential vote of a county is a pretty good overall measure of the general political leanings of the place where a person lives.

For Republicans, as noted, there is a relationship. In counties where the vote skewed Democratic, workers whose own personal identity is Republican tend to be more worried about their politics in the workplace, compared with Republican workers in counties that voted for Trump. The politics of their surrounding county don't seem to matter for Democrats.

There are several reasons why Republicans might be more affected than Democrats by their political environment. The data show that workers who live in counties where Clinton received a larger percentage of the vote are more likely to report their company's leadership has communicated with workers about politics. And workers living in more Democratic environs also are more likely to say the people around them at work have been discussing political issues more often.

Thus, a Republican living in a more Democratic county is more likely to confront political discussion in the workplace, in turn making it more likely that their personal political orientation would be conspicuous or out of sync with what is being discussed.

Democrats living in Republican environments would be less susceptible to concern over their personal politics, it follows, if there is less discussion of politics at work in general.

The effect of being a Republican in a more Democratic area is relatively small -- just reaching the level of statistical significance. And previous research shows that self-reported incidence of political discussion affecting one's work is also fairly small, with about one in 10 saying politics have negatively affected their work. Thus, while Trump's election has had some effect in the nation's workplaces, its impact varies depending on where the worker lives. And, for most employees, work is going on as usual without major disruption.