Those late night debates with friends, the visit to the polling station and the way a country votes – can they really be under the direction of our genes?
Political scientist Prof John Alford and his team at Rice University have been doing the number crunching and he believes that our thoughts on politics can be influenced in some way by our genes.
He analyzed data from the political opinions of 12,000 twins in America and supplemented it with twin research from Australia.
Genes and politics
Prof Alford found that a far greater number of identical twins shared the same political views than did fraternal twins. As each twin was exposed to the same background and environment as his or her sibling it suggests that there must be something in genes to account for the findings.
One of the most astonishing results was that four-fifths of identical twins shared the same opinion on property taxes, while only two-thirds of fraternal twins agreed.
No one is really saying that there is a gene for political behaviour; genes for specific behaviours have not been identified. And of course in some instances we all have the capacity to overcome our genetic predispositions. But what Prof Alford is asking for is that the subject be taken a little more seriously than it is at the moment; and it gives a gentle warning to political parties that it may take more than a campaign advertisement to influence someone’s opinion.
Genetics of political views
In recent years there have been several other studies that have worked on the genetics of political views. A study from UC San Diego also looked at identical and non-identical twins. The researchers found that once they had screened out socialization and other environmental factors, about 53% of variation in voter turnout was due to genetics.
Of course it all begs the questions of how and why genes play a part? – and that will be the next main research area. Once a link is established, finding out what is its biological basis comes next.
It does seem slightly abstract and not a little bizarre to think that a string of nucleotides could influence who you vote for or what you believe in. The results are not conclusive yet, and many people are not convinced, but the researchers are becoming increasingly adamant of one thing. Namely, that the family circle may have little or no effect on a child’s political views in later life.
James H. Fowler, Chistopher T. Dawes and Laura A Baker James H. Fowler. ‘Genetic Variation in Political Participation.’ American Political Science Review, Vol. 102, No.2 May 2008 DOI