Monday, July 7, 2008

Genetics and politics

In the latest APSR, Fowler, Baker, and Dawes find a genetic influence on voter turnout. Using a study of twins, they determine that monozygotic (identical) twins have a higher correlation in voter turnout rates than dizygotic (fraternal) twins. In case you're new to the topic, this is just the latest in James Fowler's many fascinating twins studies, in which he shows a possible genetic basis for partisanship, political trust, ideology, and something along the lines of charisma.

This is undeniably fascinating research, but I can't help being slightly ooged out by it. I'm rather devoted to the (possibly naïve) view that it's all environmental. That even the most cynical, jaded person could be persuaded to vote or even care about politics if she realized its importance to her life or if parties or candidates knew how to contact her. Or that even the most disinterested student could become interested if a politics course were taught correctly.

As genetic testing becomes cheaper and more widespread, I suppose the day isn't too far off when students will use their voter turnout gene as an excuse for not caring about my class. Or maybe microtargeters will be able to map genetic information onto polling info to produce more accurate turnout models, and entire groups of voters will be written off because of their genetic predispositions. Or maybe the Department of Justice will screen job applicants for the presence of the liberal gene. Or maybe they're already doing that.

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