Why do people vote? Genetic variation in political participation

Jun 26, 2008

A groundbreaking new study finds that genes significantly affect variation in voter turnout, shedding new light on the reasons why people vote and participate in the political system.

The research, conducted by political scientists James H. Fowler, Christopher T. Dawes (of UC San Diego) and psychologist Laura A. Baker (of University of Southern California), appears in the May issue of the American Political Science Review, a journal of the American Political Science Association (APSA).

"Although we are not the first to suggest a link between genes and political participation," note the authors, "this study is the first attempt to test the idea empirically." They do so by conducting three tests of the claim that part of the variation in political participation can be attributed to genetic factors. The results suggest that individual genetic differences make up a large and significant portion of the variation in political participation, even after taking socialization and other environmental factors into account. They also suggest that, contrary to decades of conventional wisdom, family upbringing may have little or no effect on children's future participatory behavior.

In conducting their study, the authors examine the turnout patterns of identical and non-identical twins—including 396 twins in Los Angeles County and 806 twins in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Their findings suggest that 53% of the variation in turnout can be accounted for by genetic effects in the former, with similar outcomes in the latter.

Moreover, genetic-based differences extend to a broad class of acts of political participation, including donating to a campaign, contacting an official, running for office, and attending a rally. According to Fowler, "we expected to find that genes played some role in political behavior, but we were quite surprised by the size of the effect and how widely it applies to all kinds of participation."

"The fact that we have found genetic variation in voting, and political participation in general, should not be surprising given the large numbers of behaviors that have already been found to be heritable," observe the authors. They conclude by noting that "the next step in this line of research must move beyond estimates…and attempt to identify why genes matter so much." Some potential avenues include examining the interaction of genes and the environment on political participation, tracing the connections between participation in small groups and large-scale participation, and identifying the genes or groups of genes implicated in political behavior.

The article is available online at: www.apsanet.org/imgtest/APSRMay08Fowler_etal.pdf.

Source: American Political Science Association

Explore further: What I learned from debating science with trolls

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Myo armband and smartglasses set for deskless workplace

35 minutes ago

Thalmic Labs, Canada-based makers of the Myo armband, has announced the integration of Myo with smartglasses, with the partnership help of a number of companies pairing the Myo with their products. The gesture-control ...

Indonesian capital threatens to ban Uber car app

1 hour ago

The Indonesian capital is threatening to shut down controversial smartphone car-hailing service Uber due to licensing issues a week after it officially launched in the city, an official said Wednesday.

NASA sees Tropical Storm Lowell's tough south side

1 hour ago

The south side of Tropical Storm Lowell appears to be its toughest side. That is, the side with the strongest thunderstorms, according to satellite imagery from NOAA's GOES-14 and NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellites.

NASA image: Signs of deforestation in Brazil

1 hour ago

Multiple fires are visible in in this image of the Para and Mato Grosso states of Brazil. Many of these were most likely intentionally set in order to deforest the land. Deforestation is the removal of a ...

Celebrating 100 years of crystallography

1 hour ago

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of a revolutionary technique that underpins much of modern science, Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) magazine last week released a special edition on X-ray crystallography—its past, ...

Recommended for you

What I learned from debating science with trolls

5 hours ago

I often like to discuss science online and I'm also rather partial to topics that promote lively discussion, such as climate change, crime statistics and (perhaps surprisingly) the big bang. This inevitably ...

Activists urge EU to scrap science advisor job

Aug 19, 2014

Nine major charities urged the European Commission on Tuesday to scrap a science advisor position it says puts too much power over sensitive policy into the hands of one person.

More to a skilled ear in music

Aug 15, 2014

The first pilot study in Australia to give musicians the skills and training to critically assess music by what they hear rather than what they see begins this month at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.The study aims to ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jburchel
1.8 / 5 (4) Jun 26, 2008
Obviously, stupid people are almost invariably liberal, and vice versa. What brilliant research... Could this be the next "gravity" or "relativity"? No doubt publicly funded...