Navigation Links
Political participation is partially rooted in genetic inheritance

The decision to vote is partly genetic, according to a new study published in the American Political Science Review. The research, by James H. Fowler and Christopher T. Dawes, of the University of California, San Diego and Laura A. Baker, of the University of Southern California, is the first to show that genes influence participation in elections and in a wide range of political activities. See the full study at:

Fowler and Dawes have followed this work with research just published in the July issue of the Journal of Politics in which they identify a link between two specific genes and political participation. They show that individuals with a variant of the MAOA gene are significantly more likely to have voted in the 2000 presidential election. Their research also demonstrates a connection between a variant of the 5HTT gene and voter turnout, which is moderated by religious attendance. These are the first results ever to link specific genes to political behavior. The published study will be online July 1, but a pre-publication PDF is linked here:

The initial research is based on voter turnout records in Los Angeles matched to a registry of identical and non-identical twins. These comparisons show clearly that identical twins, who share 100 per cent of their genes, are significantly more similar in their voting behavior than fraternal twins who share only 50 per cent of their genes on average. The results indicate that 53 per cent of the variation in voter turnout is due to differences in genes. The results also suggest that, contrary to decades of conventional wisdom, family upbringing may have little effect on children's future participatory behavior.

To replicate these findings the researchers went beyond the California voter data to examine patterns nationwide using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health conducted from 1994 to 2002. This data has been utilized in a wide variety of genetic studies, but this is the first time the data has been used to show that participatory political behavior is heritable. For example, among identical twins, the researchers conclude that 72 per cent of the variance in voter turnout can be attributed to genes. Moreover, genetic-based differences extend to a broad class of acts of political participation, including donating to a campaign, contacting a government official, running for office, and attending a political 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 many kinds of participation."

To pinpoint the specific genes implicated, the authors first looked at those genes that have previously been shown to account for variation in social behavior. Among those, MAOA and 5HTT are known to exert a strong influence on the serotonin system regulating fear, trust, and social interaction. Hypothesizing that persons with more efficient versions of these genes would be more likely to vote, the researchers turned again to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to conduct tests on the relationship between turnout and MAOA and 5HTT. The results show that both genes are significantly associated with the decision to vote. Those who have the more efficient genes are about 10 per cent more likely to go to the polls.

"These findings are extremely important for how we think about political behavior," said Fowler. For example, it is widely known that parents and children exhibit similar voting behavior, but this has always been interpreted as learned behavior rather than inherited behavior. It is also well-known that these particular genes influence social behavior, but it has not been widely appreciated that social behavior plays an important role in voting and other forms of political behavior. In particular, the 5HTT gene appears to play an important role in the well-known association between voting and going to church, suggesting that it is the combination of social activity and genes that helps to shape political behavior. According to Fowler, "We are not robots the genes just seem to make it more likely that some of us will respond to our social lives by getting involved in politics." Fowler also cautioned that there is no such thing as a 'voter gene': "That idea is just silly. Complex social behaviors are the result of hundreds of genes interacting with hundreds of social factors these results are really just the tip of the iceberg."

The authors point out that while political scientists have typically not focused on the role of genetic and biological factors in political behavior, the present work points to a significant role for genes and, therefore, a next step in research is to determine why genes matter so much. They conclude, "These studies provide the first step needed to excite the imaginations of a discipline not used to thinking about the role of biology in human behavior."


Contact: Barry Jagoda
University of California - San Diego

Related biology news :

1. Why do people vote? Genetic variation in political participation
2. Is political orientation transmitted genetically?
3. Hybridization partially restores vision in cavefish, NYU study finds
4. International team identifies 21 new genetic risk factors for Crohns disease
5. Automated microfluidic device reduces time to screen small organisms for genetic studies
6. Drug reverses mental retardation caused by genetic disorder
7. Perspective: Policies must keep pace with genetic progress
8. Known genetic risk for Alzheimers in whites also places blacks at risk
9. Scientists confirm that parts of earliest genetic material may have come from the stars
10. Spradling receives Gruber Foundation Genetics Prize for new genetic techniques
11. Earthworm detectives provide genetic clues for dealing with soil pollution
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/19/2015)... 19, 2015  Based on its in-depth analysis of ... BIO-key with the 2015 Global Frost & Sullivan Award ... Sullivan presents this award to the company that has ... needs of the market it serves. The award recognizes ... expands on customer base demands, the overall impact it ...
(Date:11/18/2015)... , November 18, 2015 ... published a new market report titled  Gesture Recognition Market ... Forecast, 2015 - 2021. According to the report, the global gesture ... is anticipated to reach US$29.1 bn by 2021, at ... North America dominated the global ...
(Date:11/17/2015)... 2015  Vigilant Solutions announces today that Mr. ... Directors. --> --> ... the partnership at TPG Capital, one of the largest ... Billion in revenue.  He founded and led TPG,s Operating ... companies, from 1997 to 2013.  In his first role, ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... , ... November 25, 2015 , ... ... uBiome, were featured on AngelList early in their initial angel funding process. Now, ... syndicate for individuals looking to make early stage investments in the microbiome space. ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 24, 2015 Halozyme Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: HALO ) ... New York on Wednesday, December 2 at 9:30 ... president and CEO, will provide a corporate overview. th ... at 1:00 p.m. ET/10:00 a.m. PT . Jim ... provide a corporate overview. --> th Annual Oppenheimer ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... CITY , Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna ... request of IIROC on behalf of the Toronto Stock ... news release there are no corporate developments that would ... --> --> About ... . --> Aeterna Zentaris is ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics ... (SIG), MultiGP, also known as Multirotor Grand Prix, to represent the First–Person View (FPV) ... Many AMA members have embraced this type of racing and several new model aviation ...
Breaking Biology Technology: