Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-6mkhv Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-06T15:35:44.837Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Genetic Variation in Political Participation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 May 2008

University of California, San Diego
University of Southern California
University of California, San Diego
James H. Fowler is Professor, Political Science Department, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive 0521, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521. ( or by Web at
Laura A. Baker is Professor, Psychology Department, University of Southern California, 3620 South McClintock Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061.
Christopher T. Dawes is Professor, Political Science Department, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive 0521, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521.


The decision to vote has puzzled scholars for decades. Theoretical models predict little or no variation in participation in large population elections and empirical models have typically accounted for only a relatively small portion of individual-level variance in turnout behavior. However, these models have not considered the hypothesis that part of the variation in voting behavior can be attributed to genetic effects. Matching public voter turnout records in Los Angeles to a twin registry, we study the heritability of political behavior in monozygotic and dizygotic twins. The results show that a significant proportion of the variation in voting turnout can be accounted for by genes. We also replicate these results with data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and show that they extend to a broad class of acts of political participation. These are the first findings to suggest that humans exhibit genetic variation in their tendency to participate in political activities.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2008

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Abrahamson, Amy C., Baker, Laura A., and Caspi, Avshalom. 2002. “Rebellious teens? Genetic and environmental influences on the social attitudes of adolescents.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 83: 13921408.Google Scholar
Aldrich, John H. 1993. “Rational Choice and Turnout.” American Journal of Political Science 37 (1): 246–78.Google Scholar
Alford, J. R., Funk, C. L., and Hibbing, J. R.. 2005. “Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?American Political Science Review 99 (2): 153–67.Google Scholar
Ansolabehere, S., Iyengar, S., Simon, A., and Valentino, N.. 1994. “Does Attack Advertising Demobilize the Electorate.” American Political Science Review 88 (4): 829–38.Google Scholar
Baker, Laura A., Barton, Mafalda, Raine, Adrian, and James, H. Fowler. 2006. “The Southern California Twin Register at the University of Southern California: Ii.” Twin Research and Human Genetics 9 (6): 18.Google Scholar
Bendor, J., Diermeier, D., and Ting, M.. 2003. “A Behavioral Model of Turnout.” American Political Science Review 97 (2): 261–80.Google Scholar
Blais, A., and Young, R.. 1999. “Why Do People Vote? An Experiment in Rationality.” Public Choice 99 (1–2): 3955.Google Scholar
Boehm, Christopher. 1999. Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Bouchard, T. J. 1998. “Genetic and Environmental Influences on Adult Intelligence and Special Mental Abilities.” Human Biology 70 (2): 257–79.Google Scholar
Bouchard, T. J., and McGue, M.. 2003. “Genetic and Environmental Influences on Human Psychological Differences.” Journal of Neurobiology 54 (1): 445.Google Scholar
Brady, D., Verba, S., and Schlozman, K. L.. 1995. “Beyond Ses: A Resource Model of Political Participation.” American Political Science Review 89 (2): 271–94.Google Scholar
Brosnan, Sarah F., Cassiopeia, Freeman, and Frans, B. M. de Waal. 2006. “Partner's Behavior, Not Reward Distribution, Determines Success in an Unequal Cooperative Task in Capuchin Monkeys.” American Journal of Primatology 68: 713–24.Google Scholar
Burton, P. R., Scurrah, K. J., Tobin, M. D., and Palmer, L. J.. 2005. “Covariance Components Models for Longitudinal Family Data.” International Journal of Epidemiology 34 (5): 1063–77.Google Scholar
Carmen, Ira H. 2004. Politics in the Laboratory: The Constitution of Human Genomics. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
Cassel, C. A. 1999. “Voluntary Associations, Churches, and Social Participation Theories of Turnout.” Social Science Quarterly 80 (3): 504–17.Google Scholar
Cesarini, David, Christopher, T. Dawes, James, H. Fowler, Magnus, Johannesson, Paul, Lichtenstein, Björn, Wallace. 2008. “Heritability of Cooperative Behavior in the Trust Game.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 (10): 3721–26.Google Scholar
Chen, Ming-Hui, Amita, K. Manatunga, and Christopher, J. Williams. 1998. “Heritability Estimates from Human Twin Data by Incorporating Historical Prior Information.” Biometrics 54 (4): 1348–62.Google Scholar
Cho, W. K. T. 1999. “Naturalization, Socialization, Participation: Immigrants and (Non-) Voting.” Journal of Politics 61 (4): 1140–55.Google Scholar
Clinton, Joshua, Simon, Jackman, and Doug, Rivers. 2004. “The Statistical Analysis of Roll Call Data.” American Political Science Review 98 (2): 355–70.Google Scholar
Dawes, Christopher T., and James, H. Fowler. 2008. “Partisanship, Voting, and the Dopamine D2 Receptor Gene.” (January 31, 2008). Available at SSRN: Scholar
de Waal, Frans. 1998 [1982]. Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.Google Scholar
DeFries, J. C., and Fulker, D. W.. 1985. “Multiple Regression Analysis of Twin Data.” Behavior Genetics 15 (5): 467–73.Google Scholar
DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., and Neuman, W. R.. 2001. “Social Implications of the Internet.” Annual Review of Sociology 27: 307–36.Google Scholar
Do, K. A., Broom, B. M., Kuhnert, P., Duffy, D. L., Todorov, A. A., Treloar, S. A., and Martin, N. G.. 2000. “Genetic Analysis of the Age at Menopause by Using Estimating Equations and Bayesian Random Effects Models.” Statistics in Medicine 19 (9): 1217–35.Google Scholar
Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper.Google Scholar
Eaves, L., and Erkanli, A.. 2003. “Markov Chain Monte Carlo Approaches to Analysis of Genetic and Environmental Components of Human Developmental Change and G X E Interaction.” Behavior Genetics 33 (3): 279–99.Google Scholar
Eaves, L., Erkanli, A., Silberg, J., Angold, A., Maes, H. H., and Foley, D.. 2005. “Application of Bayesian Inference Using Gibbs Sampling to Item-Response Theory Modeling of Multi-Symptom Genetic Data.” Behavior Genetics 35 (6): 765–80.Google Scholar
Eaves, Lindon J., and Peter, Peter K. Hatemi. 2008. “Transmission of attitudes toward abortion and gay rights: Parental socialization or parental mate selection?” Behavior Genetics, fothcoming.Google Scholar
Edlin, Aaron, Andrew, Gelman, and Noah, Kaplan. 2007. “Voting as a Rational Choice: Why and How People Vote to Improve the Well-Being of Others.” Rationality and Society forthcoming.Google Scholar
Evans, D. M., Gillespie, N. A., and Martin, N. G.. 2002. “Biometric Genetics.” Biological Psychology 61: 3351.Google Scholar
Feddersen, T., and Sandroni, A.. 2006. “A Theory of Participation in Elections.” American Economic Review 96 (4): 1271–82.Google Scholar
Finkel, S. E. 1985. “Reciprocal Effects of Participation and Political Efficacy: A Panel Analysis.” American Political Science Review 29 (4): 891913.Google Scholar
Fitzpatrick, M. J., Ben-Shahar, Y., Smid, H. M., Vet, L. E. M., Robinson, G. E., and Sokolowski, M. B.. 2005. “Candidate Genes for Behavioural Ecology.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20 (2): 96104.Google Scholar
Fowler, James H. 2006a. “Altruism and Turnout.” Journal of Politics 68 (3): 674–83.Google Scholar
Fowler, James H. 2006b. “Habitual Voting and Behavioral Turnout.” Journal of Politics 68 (2): 335–44.Google Scholar
Fowler, James H., and Dawes, Christopher T.. 2008. “Two Genes Predict Voter Turnout.” Journal of Politics 70 (3), TBA.Google Scholar
Fowler, James H., and Cindy, D. Kam. 2006. “Patience as a Political Virtue: Delayed Gratification and Turnout.” Political Behavior 28 (2): 113–28.Google Scholar
Fowler, James H., and Cindy, D. Kam. 2007. “Beyond the Self: Altruism, Social Identity, and Political Participation.” Journal of Politics 69 (3): 811–25.Google Scholar
Freese, Jeremy, and Brian, Powell. 2003. “Tilting at Twindmills: Rethinking Sociological Responses to Behavioral Genetics.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 44 (2): 130–35.Google Scholar
Galston, W. A. 2001. “Political Knowledge, Political Engagement, and Civic Education.” Annual Review of Political Science 4: 214–34.Google Scholar
Gelman, Andrew, Carlin, John B., Stern, Hal S., and Rubin, Donald B.. 2004. Bayesian Data Analysis. New York: Chapman & Hall/CRC.Google Scholar
Gelman, Andrew, King, Gary, and Boscardin, W. John. 1998. “Estimating the Probability of Events That Have Never Occurred: When Is Your Vote Decisive?Journal of the American Statistical Association 93 (441): 19.Google Scholar
Gerber, A. S., Green, D. P., and Shachar, R.. 2003. “Voting May Be Habit-Forming: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment.” American Journal of Political Science 47 (3): 540–50.Google Scholar
Gimpel, J. G., and Schuknecht, J. E.. 2003. “Political Participation and the Accessibility of the Ballot Box.” Political Geography 22 (5): 471–88.Google Scholar
Green, D. P., and Shachar, R.. 2000. “Habit Formation and Political Behaviour: Evidence of Consuetude in Voter Turnout.” British Journal of Political Science 30: 561–73.Google Scholar
Haberstick, B. C., Lessem, J. K., Hopfer, C. J., Smolen, A., Ehringer, M. A., Timberlake, D., and Hewitt, J. K.. 2005. “Monoamine Oxidase a (Maoa) and Antisocial Behaviors in the Presence of Childhood and Adolescent Maltreatment.” American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B (Neuropsychiatric Genetics) 135b: 5964.Google Scholar
Hannagan, Rebecca, and Hatemi, Peter K.. 2008. “A Comment on the Genetics of Political Attitudes Debate.” Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming.Google Scholar
Harris, Kathleen Mullan, Halpern, Carolyn Tucker, Smolen, Andrew, and Haberstick, Brett C.. 2006. “The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) Twin Data.” Twin Research and Human Genetics 9 (6): 988–97.Google Scholar
Hatemi, P. K., Medland, S. E., Morley, K. I., Heath, A. C., and Martin, N. G.. 2007. “The Genetics of Voting: An Australian Twin Study.” Behavior Genetics 37 (3): 435–48.Google Scholar
Hetherington, M. J. 1999. “The Effect of Political Trust on the Presidential Vote, 1968–1996.” American Political Science Review 93 (3): 311–26.Google Scholar
Highton, Benjamin, and Wolfinger, Raymond E.. 2001. “The First Seven Years of the Political Life Cycle.” American Journal of Political Science 45 (1): 202–09.Google Scholar
Hopfer, C. J., Timberlake, D., Haberstick, B., Lessem, J. M., Ehringer, M. A., Smolen, A., and Hewitt, J. K.. 2005. “Genetic Influences on Quantity of Alcohol Consumed by Adolescents and Young Adults.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence 78: 187–93.Google Scholar
Horwitz, A. V., Videon, T. M., and Schmitz, M. F.. 2003. “Rethinking Twins and Environments: Possible Social Sources for Assumed Genetic Influences in Twin Research.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 44 (2): 111–29.Google Scholar
Huckfeldt, R., and Sprague, J.. 1992. “Political Parties and Electoral Mobilization: Political Structure, Social Structure, and the Party Canvass.” American Political Science Review 86 (1): 7086.Google Scholar
Huckfeldt, Robert. 1979. “Political Participation and the Neighborhood Social Context.” American Journal of Political Science 23 (3): 579–92.Google Scholar
Jackman, R. W., and Miller, R. A.. 1995. “Voter Turnout in the Industrial Democracies During the 1980s.” Comparative Political Studies 27 (4): 467–92.Google Scholar
Jacobson, K. C., and Rowe, D. C.. 1998. “Genetic and Shared Environment Influences on Adolescent BMI: Interaction with Race and Sex.” Behavior Genetics 28: 265–75.Google Scholar
Jankowski, Richard. 2002. “Buying a Lottery Ticket to Help the Poor-Altruism, Civic Duty, and Self-Interest in the Decision to Vote.” Rationality and Society 14 (1): 5577.Google Scholar
Jankowski, Richard. 2007. “Altruism and the Decision to Vote: Explaining and Testing High Voter Turnout.” Rationality and Society 19 (1): 434.Google Scholar
Karp, J. A., and Brockington, D.. 2005. “Social Desirability and Response Validity: A Comparative Analysis of Overreporting Voter Turnout in Five Countries.” Journal of Politics 67 (3): 825–40.Google Scholar
Kendler, K. S., Martin, Nick G., Heath, A. C., and Eaves, L. J.. 1995. “Self-report psychiatric symptoms in twins and their nontwin relatives: are twins different? American Journal of Medical Genetics (Neuropsychiatric Genetics) 60: 588–91.Google Scholar
Krause, Merton S., Houlihan, Kevin, Oberlander, Mark I., and Carson, Lawrence. 1970. “Some Motivational Correlates of Attitudes toward Political Participation.” Midwest Journal of Political Science 14 (3): 383–91.Google Scholar
Kuhnert, Petra M., and Do, Kim-Anh. 2003. “Fitting Genetic Models to Twin Data with Binary and Ordered Categorical Responses: A Comparison of Structural Equation Modelling and Bayesian Hierarchical Models.” Behavior Genetics 33 (4): 441–54.Google Scholar
Lake, R. L., and Robert, Huckfeldt. 1998. “Social Capital, Social Networks, and Political Participation.” Political Psychology 19 (3): 567–84.Google Scholar
Lane, R. E. 1959. Political Life. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
Leighley, J. E., and Nagler, J.. 1992a. “Individual and Systemic Influences on Turnout—Who Votes 1984.” Journal of Politics 54 (3): 718–40.Google Scholar
Leighley, J. E., and Nagler, J.. 1992b. “Socioeconomic-Class Bias in Turnout, 1964–1988—the Voters Remain the Same.” American Political Science Review 86 (3): 725–36.Google Scholar
Levinson, D. J. 1958. “The Relevance of Personality for Political-Participation.” Public Opinion Quarterly 22 (1): 310.Google Scholar
Martin, Nick G., Eaves, Lyndon J., Heath, A. C., Jardine, R., Feingold, L. M.., and Eysenck, H. J.. 1986. “Transmission of Social Atitudes.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 83 (12): 4364–68.Google Scholar
Masters, Roger D. 1990. “Evolutionary Biology and Political Theory.” American Political Science Review 84 (1): 195210.Google Scholar
Matsusaka, J. G., and Palda, F.. 1999. “Voter Turnout: How Much Can We Explain?Public Choice 98 (3–4): 431–46.Google Scholar
McGue, M., Bacon, S., and Lykken, D. T.. 1993. “Personality Stability and Change in Early Adulthood—a Behavioral Genetic-Analysis.” Developmental Psychology 29 (1): 96109.Google Scholar
McGue, M., and Bouchard, T. J.. 1998. “Genetic and Environmental Influences on Human Behavioral Differences.” Annual Review of Neuroscience 21 (1): 124.Google Scholar
McLeod, J. M., Scheufele, D. A., and Moy, P.. 1999. “Community, Communication, and Participation: The Role of Mass Media and Interpersonal Discussion in Local Political Participation.” Political Communication 16 (3): 315–36.Google Scholar
Merelman, Richard M. 1971. “The Development of Policy Thinking in Adolescence.” American Political Science Review 65 (4): 1033–47.Google Scholar
Miller, Arthur H., Gurin, P., and Gurin, G.. 1981. “Group Consciousness and Political Participation.” American Journal of Political Science 25 (3): 494511.Google Scholar
Miller, Warren E., and Shanks, J. Merrill. 1996. The New American Voter. Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Mutz, Diana C. 2002. “The Consequences of Cross-Cutting Networks for Political Participation.” American Journal of Political Science 46 (4): 838–55.Google Scholar
Neale, M. C., and Cardon, L. R.. 1992. Methodology for Genetic Studies of Twins and Families. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.Google Scholar
Nie, Norman H., Powell, G. B., and Prewitt, K.. 1969a. “Social Structure and Political Participation—Developmental Relationships.” American Political Science Review 63 (2): 361–78.Google Scholar
Nie, Norman H., Powell, G.B., and Prewitt, K.. 1969b. “Social Structure and Political Participation—Developmental Relationships.” American Political Science Review 63 (3): 808–32.Google Scholar
Palfrey, Thomas R., and Rosenthal, Howard. 1985. “Voter Participation and Strategic Uncertainty.” American Political Science Review 79 (1): 6278.Google Scholar
Plutzer, Eric. 2002. “Becoming a Habitual Voter: Inertia, Resources, and Growth in Young Adulthood.” American Political Science Review 96 (1): 4156.Google Scholar
Posner, S., Baker, L. A., and Martin, N. G.. 1996. “Social Contact and Attitude Similarity in Australian Twins.” Behavior Genetics 26: 123–34.Google Scholar
Prescott, C. A. 2004. Behavior Genetics 34: 1739.Google Scholar
Riker, W. H., and Ordeshook, P. C.. 1968. “A Theory of the Calculus of Voting.” American Political Science Review 62 (1): 2542.Google Scholar
Risch, N. 2001. “The Genetic Epidemiology of Cancer: Interpreting Family and Twin Studies and Their Implications for Molecular Genetic Approaches.” Cancer Epidemiology: Biomarkers and Prevention 10 (7): 733–41.Google Scholar
Rosenstone, Steven J., and Wolfinger, R. E.. 1978. “Effect of Registration Laws on Voter Turnout.” American Political Science Review 72 (1): 2245.Google Scholar
Rushton, J. P., Fulker, D. W., Neale, M. C., Nias, D. K. B., and Eysenck, H. J.. 1986. “Altruism and Aggression—the Heritability of Individual-Differences.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50 (6): 1192–98.Google Scholar
Schlozman, Kay L., Burns, Nancy, Verba, Sidney, and Donahue, Jesse. 1995. “Gender and Citizen Participation: Is There a Different Voice?American Journal of Political Science 39 (2): 267–93.Google Scholar
Scourfield, J., John, B., Martin, N., and McGuffin, P.. 2004. “The Development of Prosocial Behaviour in Children and Adolescents: A Twin Study.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 45 (5): 927–35.Google Scholar
Sears, David O. 1987. “Political Psychology.” Annual Review of Psychology 38: 229–55.Google Scholar
Shachar, R., and Nalebuff, B.. 1999. “Follow the Leader: Theory and Evidence on Political Participation.” American Economic Review 89 (3): 525–47.Google Scholar
Somit, A., Tanenhaus, J., Wilke, W. H., and Cooley, R. W.. 1958. “The Effect of the Introductory Political Science Course on Student Attitudes toward Personal Political Participation.” American Political Science Review 52 (4): 1129–32.Google Scholar
Somit, Albert, and Peterson, Steven A.. 1998. “Biopolitics after Three Decades—a Balance Sheet.” British Journal of Political Science 28 (3): 559–71.Google Scholar
Stoker, Laura, and Jennings, M. K.. 1995. “Life-Cycle Transitions and Political Participation: The Case of Marriage.” American Political Science Review 89 (2): 421–33.Google Scholar
Strate, John M., Parrish, Charles J., Elder, Charles D., and Ford, Coit. 1989. “Life Span Civic Development and Voting Participation.” American Political Science Review 83 (2): 443–64.Google Scholar
Timpone, Richard J. 1998. “Structure, Behavior, and Voter Turnout in the United States.” American Political Science Review 92 (1): 145–58.Google Scholar
Turkheimer, Eric. 1998. “Heritability and Biological Explanation.” Psychological Review 105 (4): 782–91.Google Scholar
Turkheimer, Eric, and Waldron, Mary C.. 2000. “Nonshared Environment: A Theoretical, Methodological, and Quantitative Review.” Psychological Bulletin 126 (1): 78108.Google Scholar
vanden Berg, P. M. den Berg, P. M., Setiawan, A., Bartels, M., Polderman, T. J. C., Vaart, A. W. van der, and Boomsma, D. I.. 2006. “Individual Differences in Puberty Onset in Girls: Bayesian Estimation of Heritabilities and Genetic Correlations.” Behavior Genetics 36 (2): 261–70.Google Scholar
van den Berg, S. M., Beem, L., and Boomsma, D. I.. 2006. “Fitting Genetic Models Using Markov Chain Monte Carlo Algorithms with Bugs.” Twin Research and Human Genetics 9 (3): 334–42.Google Scholar
Verba, Sidney, and Nie, Norman H.. 1972. Participation in America: Political Democracy and Social. New York Harper & Row, 1972.Google Scholar
Verba, Sidney, Schlozman, Kay L., and Brady, Henry E.. 1993. “Race, Ethnicity, and Political Resources—Participation in the Unites States.” British Journal of Political Science 23 (4): 453–97.Google Scholar
Verba, Sidney, Schlozman, Kay Lehman, and Brady, Henry E.. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Visscher, Peter M., Medland, Sarah E., Ferreira, Manuel A. R., Morley, Katherine I., Zhu, Gu, Cornes, Belinda K., Montgomery, Grant W., and Martin, Nicholas G.. 2006. “Assumption-Free Estimation of Heritability from Genome-Wide Identity-by-Descent Sharing between Full Siblings.” PLOS GENETICS 2 (3): 316–25.Google Scholar
Wielhouwer, P. W., and Lockerbie, B.. 1994. “Party Contacting and Political-Participation, 1952–90.” American Journal of Political Science 38 (1): 211–29.Google Scholar