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The delicate subject of politics and career

politics at work chess

Can your political views affect your career?

The usual answer is no.

“In the private sector, the common-sense consensus is politics doesn’t really matter in the workplace,” says Edoardo Teso, an assistant professor of managerial economics and decision sciences at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Could Your Political Views Stymie Your Career? (

But research on Brazilian companies by Teso and coauthors Emanuele Colonnelli of the University of Chicago and Valdemar Pinho Neto of the Getulio Vargas Foundation indicates that owners of small- and medium-sized businesses are much more likely to hire candidates who are members of the same political party.

And if someone with incorrect attitudes (from the employer’s point of view) is hired, they’re likely to get paid less, get fewer promotions, and survive less long in the job.

Headshot of Richard Smoley

In fact, the researchers said, “we found that the hiring preference and the political wage premium for workers who are of the same party as owners is larger than that for shared gender and race—which we know from previous research also are very important.”

The researchers analyzed data from a government registry on the political affiliations of 12 million private-company employers and employees in Brazil from 2002 to 2019.

Why Brazil? Unlike the United States, which has only 2 major political parties, Brazil had 35 parties during the study period. Meaning that the correlation between hiring and political preferences is even less likely to be random. After all, an American citizen has basically only three choices of political affiliation: Democratic, Republican, and none.

Furthermore, 29 percent of business owners admitted that they do take political views into account when making hiring decisions—although this is illegal in Brazil. But last year the nation made political affiliation public knowledge and very easy to access.

Is it true here? My experience after 45 years in the American workplace suggests that it isn’t—at least not to the same degree. I haven’t seen that my political preferences have affected whether I’ve gotten hired or not. (Although, of course, I don’t make them well known.)

All the same, your political preferences are likely to be obvious. It’s not because your employer can search the voting records. After all, if you know someone’s age, educational level, and zip code, you (or at any rate a sophisticated analyst) can figure out their political orientations fairly accurately.

And all three of those things are either stated on or obvious from your résumé. Attire, speech habits, and other markers can make the guesswork even easier. So can wearing a religious symbol—if you are foolish enough to do that at an interview.

My own decidedly unscientific opinion is that by and large, political views don’t hugely affect hiring decisions at lower levels. But they are more likely to count when you ascend the hierarchical ladder, as it becomes increasingly important to prove to your employers that you are, as they say, “one of us.” Moreover, as you approach the top, your job is more likely to have political and economic ramifications.

From the employer’s point of view, it is unrealistic to expect that you will step entirely out of your box of prejudices; no one does. Here the best approach, I suspect, is to see your own preconceptions as clearly as possible, and without attempting to deny them, to put them in perspective with the candidate’s other qualifications.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.