Is Voting Genetic?

by John Sides on December 10, 2007 · 6 comments

in Political science

Fowler, Baker & Dawes (2007) recently showed in two independent studies of twins that voter turnout has very high heritability. Here we investigate two specific genes that may contribute to this heritability via their impact on neurochemical processes that influence social behavior. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we show that a polymorphism of the MAOA gene significantly increases the likelihood of voting. We also find evidence of a gene-environment interaction between religious attendance and a polymorphism of the 5HTT gene that significantly increases voter turnout. These are the first results to ever link specific genes to political behavior.

That is from this paper by James Fowler and Christopher Dawes.

The authors find that the MAOA gene increases the likelihood of voting by 5 percentage points. The 5HTT gene increases the likelihood of voting by 10 points in interaction with an environmental factor, religious attendance. I note that only to preempt fears of genetic determinism, not to detract from this interesting finding.

For more on the genetic bases of political attitudes, see this 2005 paper by John Alford, Carolyn Funk, and John Hibbing.

[Hat tip to Darren Schreiber and the Neuropolitics Digest.]

{ 6 comments }

Nicholas December 10, 2007 at 10:08 pm

Nice link, cheers. But seriously, are we still worrying about ‘genetic determinism’?

Scott McClurg December 11, 2007 at 6:29 am

We still worry about social determinism, so why not worry about genetic determination too? Old habits die hard.

PLW December 11, 2007 at 10:19 am

This would have been a lot more convincing if they had reported a specification with family fixed effects. Maybe you don’t have enough variance, then, but it would be awesome to see that the random assignment of MM to one sibling and ll to another (from a set of Ml parents, presumably, assuming no funny business) led to big differences in voting.

PLW December 11, 2007 at 11:00 am

I just had the thought.. could we use these data to identify infidelity? That would also be awesome… though a little unfair because we could only identify infidelity by women.

Steve December 11, 2007 at 3:08 pm

Just off the ground and already cited in Kevin Drum’s blog. My jealous knows no bounds. Keep up the great work.

Nicholas December 13, 2007 at 8:18 am

Yeah, that was my point in a roundabout way; determinism is spooky. But it doesnt reaaaly become all that more spooky when genes are involved. Previous states of the universe are enough for me…

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