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: Research band at Karolinska tuck Dylan gems into papers

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Big, fast, weird data

Apr 08, 2014

The "Big Data" research that continues to dominate IT agendas has traditionally focused on making sense of the growing volumes of computer data. Yet in recent years, the volume question has given way to the other V's of Big ...

A challenge to the genetic interpretation of biology

Feb 19, 2014

A proposal for reformulating the foundations of biology, based on the 2nd law of thermodynamics and which is in sharp contrast to the prevailing genetic view, is published today in the Journal of the Royal ...

Experts call for network to monitor marine biodiversity

Apr 23, 2013

A group of oceanographic experts is calling for the establishment of a national network to monitor the diversity of marine life, a key bellwether of ocean and human health. Their work is described in the ...

Genetic components of political preference

Feb 15, 2013

Rose McDermott, professor of political science at Brown University, will discuss the growing field of research that explores possible links between genetics and political preferences at the annual meeting of the American ...

Two genes do not make a voter: new research

Feb 29, 2012

Voting behavior cannot be predicted by one or two genes as previous researchers have claimed, according to Evan Charney, a Duke University professor of public policy and political science.

Recommended for you

Research band at Karolinska tuck Dylan gems into papers

21 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A 17-year old bet among scientists at the Karolinska Institute has been a wager that whoever wrote the most articles with Dylan quotes before they retired would get a free lunch. Results included ...

A simulation game to help people prep for court

Sep 25, 2014

Preparing for court and appearing before a judge can be a daunting experience, particularly for people who are representing themselves because they can't afford a lawyer or simply don't know all the ropes ...

When finding 'nothing' means something

Sep 25, 2014

Scientists usually communicate their latest findings by publishing results as scientific papers in journals that are almost always accessible online (albeit often at a price), ensuring fast sharing of latest ...

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...