Genetically Pre-Disposed to Enjoy Politics?

A new study finds that our genes may determine how interested we are in politics. Interesting…

"Social scientists are stumped. Why do we bother to go to the polls when we know our individual vote has no chance of determining the result of a national election? Variations in turnout — by age, race, income or whatever — are hard to fit into a theory of human conduct that assumes that people are rational. But with time to spare before the November election, molecular biology is coming to the rescue. In the same way that researchers have teased out a role for genes in determining sexual orientation or the propensity to smoke, they are deploying genetics to understand our political choices."

More after the jump….

The findings of the new gene study shed some light on why some people may be more likely to vote than others. However, while it does give us a bit more information about why people vote, it seems as though this study re-emphasizes our traditonal understanding of voting behavior- that people vote because it makes them feel good, because they get pleasure out of doing their democratic duty (Riker and Ordeshook 1968).

This new gene study, conducted by James Fowler and Christopher Dawes at UCSD and findings appearing in an upcoming JOP, suggests that individuals who are genetically predisposed to deal with conflict better (i.e. having the right versions of the MAOA gene and 5HTT) will have an easy time dealing with the stress of choosing sides and voting, and hence will be likely to vote. Those without these genes will be predisposed to deal with stress poorly and hence be less likely to choose candidates and vote. Further, people with the A2 version of the D2 dopamine receptor gene will have better dopamine signaling in the brain and better signaling leads to attachments to groups, such as political parties. People without this gene will less likely desire to be attached to a particular party.

What does this new study tell us? People become attached to parties and/ or vote because they are genetically predisposed to feel good when being attached and voting, and people don’t become attached to parties and/ or don’t vote because they feel bad when being attached and votes. Sounds a lot like Riker and Ordeshook (1968) to me.

While the study simply re-enforces what we already know about voting behvaior, having physical evidence to back up claims about voting behavior provides us with a stronger foundation for explaining why voters make the choices they do. So it’s a great study and very important for the future of voting behavior research. It’s funny how far we’ve come in this field since the 60s. We’re not just assuming utility exists, we’re actually figuring out where it comes from.

About Julie VanDusky-Allen

Julie VanDusky-Allen is at Boise State University and received her PhD in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2011. Her research focuses on institutional choice and development, political parties, the legislative process, and Latin American politics.

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