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Is the Informal Sector Politically Different? (Null) Answers from Latin America

Highlights•Scholarly impressions of informal workers as politically unengaged and right-leaning are tested.•Informal workers in Latin America are just as politically and communally engaged as formal workers.•Informal workers also do not differ from formals on vote choice or policy attitudes.•Political differences between the two are minimal because the two sectors are highly integrated.SummaryScholars have produced a limited understanding of the effect of informal labor status on a worker’s political attitudes and behavior. We present descriptive evidence on the micropolitical correlates of informality using direct measures of the concept in public opinion surveys from 18 Latin American countries. We test three scholarly impressions of informal workers—that they are less politically engaged, more right-leaning, and more favorable toward noncontributory social programs than formal-sector workers. These are grounded in a dualist conception of labor markets that views the formal and informal sectors as having little overlap. We find minimal evidence for these impressions and argue that recent empirical findings consistent with a revisionist view of informality better account for our null results. According to this view, informal and formal labor markets are highly integrated, which, we argue, melds together the economic interests and political preferences of individuals in both sectors. We also provide evidence that casts doubt on alternative explanations that would attribute our null results to the timing of our surveys, to arational sources of political behavior, or to measurement error.

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