You may worry that speaking your opinions too often, or too strongly, might cause conflict with colleagues and employers. However, if you respect your colleagues, you probably assume that any differences in political leanings will not create problems in your career.
And that’s what the economists assumed too. “In the private sector, the common sense consensus is that politics don’t really matter in the workplace,” he says Eduardo Tessoassistant professor of managerial economics and decision sciences at the Kellogg School.
But it turns out that your political views can be a big factor in whether you get hired for a particular job in the first place, according to new research from Teso and co-authors Emanuele Colonelli of the University of Chicago and Valdemar Pinio Neto of the Getulio Vargas Foundation.
“We have these growing trends in political polarization that we know are modifying standard social decisions like where to live and who to be friends with,” Teso says. “We wanted to know if we see that politics plays a role in matching workers with companies and if it plays a role in what happens inside the company.”
Their research shows that small and medium business owners are much more likely to hire job candidates who are members of the same political party. In addition, when employees who are not politically connected to the boss are hired, they receive lower pay, receive fewer promotions, and have shorter tenure at the firm on average. This means that personal political differences can really leave a mark on your career.
In fact, researchers have found that it’s a bigger factor than other preferences that can influence intake.
“We found that the hiring preference and political wage premium for workers who belong to the same party as owners is larger than that for common gender and race—which we know from previous research are also very important.”
When applying for a job, politics come into play
The researchers analyzed data from a government registry on the political beliefs of 12 million employers and employees of private companies in Brazil from 2002 to 2019. They combined this information with two additional large government information sources to obtain comprehensive data on demographics , location, industry and occupation for each individual. The sample represented 11.4 percent of owners in the private sector and 7.8 percent of employees.
Brazil, like the US, is a country with high and growing political polarization, Teso says. It is illegal to discriminate in employment based on political party there. But surprisingly, until last year, Brazil made public and very easily accessible information about individual political parties.
The availability of such rich data “was an important part of why we chose Brazil and why we were able to write this paper,” says Teso. Furthermore, “Brazil is an interesting case study, even beyond the data.”
First, compared to the US, which has 2 major parties, Brazil’s political landscape is very fragmented. Brazil had 35 parties during the study period, with the top 7 parties accounting for 70 percent of all party members. And in the local labor markets where most recruiting for small and medium-sized businesses takes place, there is a good chance that business owners already know potential job candidates as well as their political beliefs through personal or business networks.
What they found in their analysis was startling. On average, workers and employers were 50 percent more likely to belong to the same party than if they were randomly matched. Collaborative workers were both more likely to be hired and less likely to leave the firm after being hired by other workers.
Additionally, the data shows that politically aligned employees are more likely to be promoted at all levels and earn up to 3.8 percent more compared to non-aligned colleagues at the same level.
“I expected to see a result, especially in small companies where we know that employers and employees interact on a daily basis. What is striking is the magnitude of the relationship.” says Teso.
This first analysis only shows that the preferences of workers and employer parties are correlated. What workers—and economists—would really like to know is how much of this association is due to employment preferences based on political party as opposed to preferences based on other factors simply tied to political party.
So Teso and his colleagues spent nearly two years exploring the many non-political factors associated with both political engagement and hiring, such as race, gender, geography, education level, and industry. For example, a female business owner with a degree who lives in an urban location and hires another female business owner with a degree who lives in the same urban area may have mistakenly hired someone who also belongs to the same political party.
And while there was statistical evidence that non-political factors, particularly race and gender, contributed to the association, Teso and his colleagues found that political preference played a much larger role.
Asking employers if they discriminate
Teso and his colleagues then conducted an experiment to see how these political preferences played out in real-life scenarios and allow them to better understand whether the preference for joining the same party came from employers as opposed to employees .
A subset of business owners from the same research data set used above were invited to rate the resumes of fictional job seekers with realistic qualifications. The researchers found that employers rated resumes significantly higher when they contained cues (such as volunteer experience) that the job applicant was from the same party compared to those from opposing parties.
The team then selected 891 owners and 1,003 workers from the data set to complete a survey asking them to assess the possible reasons behind the findings in a “recent study”—that study is the one you’re reading about now.
Both employers and employees reported the belief that the partisan hiring pattern is primarily due to discrimination—either because employers clearly prefer members of their own party or because they believe that members of their own party will perform better on the job.
And surprisingly, 29 percent of business owners surveyed directly admitted that they consider the political views of potential employees when making hiring decisions.
Political discrimination can be costly
A job seeker’s goal is to find the best position that matches his or her qualifications. And ideally, a business owner should search for the most suitable candidate without bias.
“The big open question our paper leaves is ‘Is political discrimination good or bad for firm growth?’ says Teso. “If there is pure discrimination due to dislike of the other party, we would expect it to be detrimental to performance,” he suggests. On the other hand, if a business owner is simply trying to create team cohesion and avoid conflict, “it may be optimal to have similar political views.”
In the paper, Teso presents observational data suggesting that political bias has similar growth-limiting power to racial and gender bias. He found that companies with a higher share of same-party workers grew their workforce at a significantly lower rate than companies with more politically diverse hires. The subject deserves much closer study, he says. “What we’re seeing in Brazil could be happening in the US as well. And policy makers may be asking, what is the implication for productivity and for better allocation of human resources across the economy?’
And what is the package for workers and jobseekers? It depends, says Teso.
“One implication of our research is that if you don’t want to be discriminated against, keep politics out of your resume as much as possible. But if you know that the employer’s partisanship matches yours, especially at a smaller company, you can find a way to send that message.”