Nicole Wu

Nicole Wu

Welcome! I am a PhD candidate in Political Science and a Barbour Scholar at the University of Michigan.

My research and teaching interests include international and comparative political economy, public opinion, politics of technology, and Chinese politics. My dissertation explores mass attitudes toward workplace automation (labor-replacing technology) and globalization in the United States, China, and Japan. I have published and ongoing work on trade in the Asia-Pacific region.

I received a MA in Political Science from the University of Michigan and a BSSc (First Class Honors) in Government and Public Administration from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. I was a visiting student at the University of Pennsylvania, University of California–Berkeley (political science), and Purdue University (environmental science and agricultural economics).

My full CV can be found here.



Cover photo: Taken during a factory visit in southern China.

Dissertation

CNC machine in use since the 80s (2018).
Artisan furniture factory, Guangdong (2018).
‍‍
Pepper in Tokyo, Japan.
Semi-humanoid, Tokyo (2017).

Public Opinion on Automation and Globalization

Globalization and automation are transforming the international labor market. Although technological change has led to job market polarization, rising income inequality, and labor displacement, many overwhelmingly blame globalization — immigration, trade, and the movement of production abroad — but not automation for economic dislocation. When and why do people point the finger at workers overseas and immigrants, but not robots?

I argue that the threat of automation has led to more hostile attitudes toward globalization in societies where citizens believe it is difficult to find comparable jobs after displacement. In the United States, a nationally representative survey shows that at-risk workers are more likely to misattribute blame for harmful changes in the labor market toward outgroups — immigrants and foreign workers — and away from automation. This blame misattribution is due to politically-motivated framing by elites to reinforce ingroup and outgroup differences, the visibility of globalization-induced job losses relative to technological displacement, and the public's equation of technology to progress. Using a survey experiment, I further show that technological anxiety causes political partisans to adopt more protectionist policy preferences. Cues about technological displacement make Republicans more likely to demand tighter restrictions on immigration and Democrats more likely to support higher tariffs. Citizens respond to automation anxiety by blaming and penalizing groups that they consider unwelcome or objectionable, depending on their partisanship. 

The next section of the project explores structural and institutional factors that might help mitigate outgroup blaming. Leveraging within-country and cross-country (the United States, China, and Japan) comparisons, I demonstrate that outgroup blaming is less likely to occur in countries where workers believe they enjoy better protection or can easily seek comparable reemployment. These factors drive down psychological anxieties as well as potential costs associated with technological displacement. I find support for this claim through 45 factory visits, 120 in-depth interviews, and original surveys.

Lastly, I explore how citizens differ in ways they think about globalization- and automation-induced job losses. I find qualitative and quantitative evidence of high baseline support for automation despite its labor-replacing potential. While workers feel the adverse impact of technology gradually, its perceived benefits are often immediate, observable, and are considered necessary for firm survival and competitiveness. On the other hand, workers, when economically threatened, tend to think about relations with immigrant and foreign workers in zero-sum terms.

A manuscript from my dissertation was the winner of the Peace Science Society (International) Award at the 2018 Pacific International Politics Conference. My next project will examine the preferences of special interest/labor groups on workplace technology.

Research

“Can Beijing Buy Taiwan? An Empirical Assessment of Beijing’s Agricultural Concessions to Taiwan” (with Stan Hok-Wui Wong). Journal of Contemporary of China. 2016.‍

Abstract: In the mid-2000s, Beijing made a series of unilateral trade concessions with respect to agricultural trade with Taiwan. This move distressed the then incumbent party of the Republic of China, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), because Beijing’s offers might weaken the DPP’s rural support. This article offers the first empirical assessment of Beijing’s trade concessions. Using an original and highly disaggregate dataset at the township-product level, it examines what types of regions were more likely to be the beneficiary of the trade concessions, whether the concessions caused any production change, and the extent to which these changes undermined the DPP’s electoral support. It is found that while the benefit of tariff concession was not confined to pro-DPP regions, the townships that grew tariff-reduced products were no less likely to vote for the DPP. The result suggests a limit of Beijing’s economic enticement.

"Misattributed Blame? Attitudes Toward Globalization in the Age of Automation.''
Under Review.
(Peace Science Society (International) Award/, Pacific International Politics Conference, July 2018)

Abstract: Many, especially low-skilled workers, blame globalization for their economic woes. Robots and machines, which rendered many routine jobs obsolete, are often viewed much more forgivingly. This paper argues that citizens have a tendency to misat- tribute blame for economic dislocations toward immigrants and workers abroad, while discounting the effects of technology. Using the 2016 American National Elections Studies (ANES), a nationally representative survey, I show that workers facing higher risks of automation feel less secure about their jobs. However, they are no more likely to oppose government spending to promote technology that might aid further automation. Instead, they are more likely to oppose free trade agreements and favor immigration restrictions, and hold somewhat more hostile views towards offshoring, even controlling for standard explanations for these attitudes. While pocket-book concerns do influence attitudes toward globalization, this work calls into question the standard assumption that individuals understand and can correctly identify the sources of their economic anxieties.

"'Restrict Foreigners, Not Robots': Technological Displacement and Policy Preferences in the United States"

Abstract: Are citizens worried about technological change? What are the effects of technological displacement on policy preferences? From an original survey experiment conducted in the United States, I find that the threat of technological displacement causes political partisans to adopt more protectionist policy preferences. Specifically, direct cues about technological displacement make Republicans more likely to demand tighter restrictions on immigration and Democrats more likely to support higher tariffs. In other words, citizens respond to automation anxiety by penalizing groups that they consider unwelcome or objectionable, depending on their partisanship. On the other hand, a majority of respondents believe that technology helps them at their jobs and increases their firms' competitiveness. Although direct cues about technological displacement do increase demand for restrictions on technology adoption, overall support for technological advancement remains high. Finally, cues on job losses due to automation have no impact on support for universal basic income.

"Disaggregating the 'China Shock:' Understanding China’s Impact on Attitudes Toward Globalization" (with Mary Gallagher, Lawerence Root, and Yujeong Yang).

Abstract: "The China Shock," the massive impact of increased integration with China after its accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, is often portrayed as an example of economic globalization. We posit, however, that reactions to the China Shock are unique in size and scope, and should not be used as a proxy for generic globalization. We take a broader conceptualization, viewing the impact as "China's Rise” and examine public attitudes toward China's economic integration into a global order that is still dominated by the United States. Treating the China Shock as a proxy for generic globalization may overstate the public’s dissatisfaction with globalization and trade in general and understate or even mask other concerns about economic integration with China specifically, such as China’s political system, its poor human rights regime and lax enforcement of labor and environmental standards, or its broader national security challenge to the United States. We conduct in-depth interviews with autoworkers and population-based survey experiments in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Germany to examine public opinion on China's rise.

"The Emotional Appeal of Trade Protectionism: Issue Framing And Trade-Related Political Engagement" (Presented at MPSA)

Abstract: A recent line of survey experiments on the framing of trade policies assumes that individuals, when presented with materials about trade, will read and process the information. But in reality, trade issues rarely captures the attention of citizens. What, then, motivates individuals to learn about trade policies in the first place? What propels citizens to take political actions on trade issues? Using an online field experiment in Taiwan, I seek to show that anger, and anxiety in particular, are powerful motivations for trade-related political engagement — operationalized as visiting political websites and signing petitions. These negative sentiments are evoked by the use of anti-trade frames that intentionally amplify economic insecurity and external political threat.

"Framing and Attitudes Towards Outward Direct Investment in China." Fully funded.

Abstract: There is a widespread belief among citizens that firms reduce economic and employment opportunities at home when they invest abroad. Politicians, as a move to gain popularity, often promise to bring or keep production home. Chinese leaders, on the other hand, pride themselves on their “go global” (zou chuqu) policy that encourages and even provides financial assistance to domestic firms to invest overseas. Why does the Chinese government advertise and celebrate a phenomenon that leaders of other governments so readily distance themselves from? I argue that framing changes popular perceptions of outward direct investment. In a tightly controlled media environment, Beijingcan monopolize and direct the understanding of outward direct investment by eliminating rival frames that nor-mally exist in democracies and competitive authoritarian regimes. Using a survey experiment in China, I identify the distinct effects of different frames (nationalistic (ODI as foreign aid, ODI as a signal of national greatness) and economic frames (securing resources, acquiring management know-how and technology, offshoring jobs)) on individual’s perception of ODI.

Fieldwork 

Workplace Automation in China

I visited 45 factories and conducted in-depth interviews with about 120 firm managers and manufacturing workers in eight cities.

The interviews covered a few topics: factors contributing to automation; employment and workplace changes after automation; worker training, recruitment, and retention; and government incentives.

While in the field, I also completed a firm-level survey (n=608) and a manufacturing worker survey (n=2,443) in collaboration with a team of Chinese researchers.

ManufacturingManufacturing in ChinaManufacturing in China
The robotic arm (front) and the worker (back) are performing the same task.
The new face of Chinese manufacturing: firms automate because it is difficult to recruit & retain workers.
Some work procedures remain labor-intensive.


Teaching 

I taught classes in comparative politics, international relations, and research methods. I received teaching awards in all three subfields. A summary of teaching evaluations is available upon request.

Graduate Student Instructor

  • International Political Economy (Michigan, Winter 2018)
  • State and Market in Contemporary China (Michigan, Winter 2015, Winter 2016, Fall 2017)
  • Introduction to Comparative Politics (Michigan, Fall 2014)
  • Quantitative Research Methodology (CUHK, Spring 2013)
  • Critical Debates in Hong Kong (CUHK, Fall 2012)

Teaching Awards

  • John W. Kingdon Award for Outstanding Teaching, University of Michigan, 2019
  • John W. Kingdon Award for Outstanding Teaching, University of Michigan, 2017
  • Exemplary Teaching Assistant Award, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2013

Evaluation

  • "Nicole is one of the best GSI's I have ever had at UMich. She was extremely prepared for class, her slides were well-organized, articulate and helpful for review materials. She engaged students and opened the floor to any and all questions. I would not have been able to comprehend the material from this class as well as I did without Nicole's help."
  • "Nicole, the GSI, was incredibly helpful and clear and overall may have been the best GSI I had at this university."
  • "Nicole Wu did an excellent job as a GSI. She was able to explain the material in a way that made sense and filled the gaps that [...] missed. Nicole clearly has a bright future ahead of her and the University of Michigan is extremely lucky to have her."
  • "Nicole was an amazing GSI!! [...] I always left discussion feeling like I understood the readings assigned for that class thoroughly [...] She went out of her way to meet with me outside of class to help me when I needed it."
  • "Nicole is the only thing that kept me from completely giving up in this class [...] She is very knowledgeable in the field and was well prepared for every class meeting. She outlined information clearly and was very understanding of student needs. She also brings great energy and genuinely cares about her students which is rare. She's a great GSI and I would hope to have her again in the future!"
  • "I loved Nicole in discussion. She was funny, interesting, and good at explaining concepts. She was also very understanding and kind. Loved this class and the discussion!"
  • "10/10 would recommend her as a GSI or even a professor."

Contact

Snail mail:
5700 Haven Hall,
505 South State Street,
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Pictured: Ollie, designated mail receiver
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