Genes Get Out the Vote

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter
Tuesday, July 1, 2008; 12:00 AM

TUESDAY, July 1 (HealthDay News) -- Heading to the polls on Nov. 4? If so, your genes may be driving you there, a new study suggests.

In fact, as much as 50 percent of whether you vote or not may be genetically determined, says a team at the University of California, San Diego. Genes may even be more important to your tendency to cast a ballot than family political history.

"Both nature and nurture play a role in voting," said lead author James H. Fowler, an associate professor of political science. "We expected genes would play a little bit of a role, but we were surprised how strong [a] role they played."

Previously, experts primarily focused on the environmental factors that pushed people to vote. "For a long time, they thought that parents and children have pretty much the same behavior when it comes to voting," Fowler said. "If they voted, it's likely you will go to the polls as well."

But, rather than transmitting ideas, "parents are transmitting genes," Fowler now believes.

He co-authored a report on the issue, published in July'sThe Journal of Politics.

In the study, Fowler and Ph.D. candidate Christopher T. Dawes drew on voter-turnout data in Los Angeles. They matched that data to a registry of identical and non-identical twins.

According to that analysis, 53 percent of the variation in voter turnout is due to differences in genes.

In fact, family upbringing appears to have little effect on how regularly offspring participate in elections. "The other half of the voting behavior was mostly attributable to theunsharedenvironment between the two twins," Fowler said.

To try to replicate the findings more broadly across the country, Fowler and Dawes looked at nationwide voting patterns using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which ran from 1994 to 2002.

Using the genetic data in this study, Fowler and Dawes found that 72 percent of differences in voter turnout among identical twins can be accounted for by genes.

Genes also play a significant role in political participation, including giving money to a campaign, contacting a government official, running for office and attending political rallies, the two researchers found.


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