Dopamine: The Electoral Connection

by Lee Sigelman on February 1, 2008 · 3 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Other social science,Public opinion

Here’s the abstract of a new paper by Christopher Dawes (pictured with his canine friends) and James Fowler, both of the Department of Political Science at UC-San Diego.

Previous studies have found that both political orientations (Alford, Funk, & Hibbing 2005) and voting behavior (Fowler, Baker & Dawes 2007, Fowler & Dawes 2007) are significantly heritable. In this article we study genetic variation in another important political behavior: partisan attachment. Using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we show that individuals with the A1 allele of the D2 dopamine receptor gene are significantly less likely to identify as a partisan than those with the A2 allele. Further, we find that this gene’s association with partisanship also mediates an indirect association between the A1 allele and voter abstention. These results are the first to identify a specific gene that may be responsible for the tendency to join political groups, and they may help to explain correlation in parent and child partisanship and the persistence of partisan behavior over time.

And here is the paper itself.

{ 3 comments }

BillCinSD February 1, 2008 at 4:48 pm

I would have thought culturally heritable would have made more sense than genetically heritable.

TWM February 2, 2008 at 10:50 pm

I go back and forth on these studies. On the one hand, the statistics tend to be pretty convincing. On the other, what is the causal mechanism? I hate the term “social construct,” but certainly, if anything fits that term, it’s political parties.

Thought experiment: tomorrow, the Republican Party disbands. The members sort themselves into various other parties (Libertarian, Natural Law, Reform, etc.). What does that do to this finding?

Chris Kennedy February 3, 2008 at 5:32 pm

A simple causal graph: genetics -> psychology politics. If these causal mechanisms do explain political behavior, then the probability that social scientists will statistically isolate their effects from other effects (social, economic, demographic, etc.) increases with a) dataset quality b) dataset size c) methodology. So I don’t find it surprising that a minor genetic effect has arguably been detected. With genetics it also seems easy to mine the data for effects and only report significant ones.

That said, the magnitude of these genetic effects can certainly be irrelevant in any applied context when compared to other areas – e.g. vote history or demographics available from the voter file in the case of political campaigns. In this study you can see that simple race and age effects are far more predictive of partisanship than A1 alleles.

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