The Genetic Situation of Ideology
Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 26, 2008
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Robert Lee Hotz summarizes some of the recent research showing how genes may shape people’s ideological and political attitudes: “The Biology of Ideology: Studies Suggest Many of Our Political Choices May Be Traced to Genetic Traits.” Here are a few excerpts.
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In a wave of new research since the last presidential campaign, political scientists are using the tools of behavioral genetics to better understand how and why we vote. Certainly, no single gene can identify an entire electorate. But “in a broad sense, biology shapes all of human behavior,” says New York University social psychologist [and Situationist contributor] John Jost, “and that has to include political behavior.
By matching extensive electronic voter records to documented patterns of heredity among twins, researchers found tantalizing hints that up to half of the variation in our attitudes toward issues and our voting practices can be traced to a political psyche shaped by genetic traits.
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In a study published in May, political scientist James Fowler at the University of California, San Diego, analyzed voter turnout among 396 identical and fraternal twins for eight elections in Los Angeles. Identical twins share their entire DNA genome, while fraternal twins don’t, so a comparison can offer a glimpse of hereditary influences. After controlling for a variety of environmental factors, he found the decision to cast a ballot may be partly genetic.
Then, he went beyond California voters to analyze political behavior among 1,082 identical and fraternal twins in a national database called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. “Whether you have run for office, donated to a candidate, attended a rally or joined a political organization, we found that those activities were heritable,” says Dr. Fowler. “The environment is incredibly influential, but without genetics you are missing half the story.”
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