Are your genes telling you to vote?

Today, hundreds of thousands of Americans in 10 states will turn out to vote in the so-called “Super Tuesday” elections for the US Republican primary contest.   But what brings them to the polls? Is it decision-making or DNA?

A small group of political scientists are trying to find out.  The field of “genopolitics” looks at how political passions and persuasions may be dictated by our DNA.    Four years ago, during the last presidential election, James Fowler and Christopher Dawes of the University of California, San Diego published a paper in The Journal of Politics studied  the DNA of twins to help determine who votes and why.  They argued a specific gene called MAOA and another called 5HTT were responsible for whether or not you showed up at the polls.

It’s not uncommon for parents and children to share political beliefs. But is it genetic?  A study in the February issue of American Political Science Review says it probably isn’t.   Evan Charney from Duke University and William English, a political scientist at Harvard, have retested Fowler’s data without finding the same connection.  They also found that the two genes were supposed to be responsible for myriad other conditions and behaviors, from alcoholism and ADD to suicide and schizophrenia.  Two genes, they say, can’t  be responsible for all of it.

Charney and English argue that genetic research is undergoing a dramatic shift, replacing the idea that specific genes are responsible for specific behaviors and outcomes with the concept of  a complex network of hundreds, even thousands of genes all working together.

Don’t expect a definitive answer soon. While the winners of this year’s presidential election will be known by November, it’s likely that the debate over whether our genes drive us to the polls will continue for a long time to come.

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Bradley Hague has worked with National Geographic for seven years, researching and developing television series and specials such as Alien Deep, The Human Family Tree, and Explorer: The Moment of Death. His work has also appeared on the Discovery Channel, BBC News, and in the American Red Cross coverage of Hurricane Katrina. He lives in the District of Columbia.