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Genetic Variation in Political Participation

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2008

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.

Corresponding author
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.
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