November 26, 2013

The genetics of politics

People on both the Left and the Right are usually quite firm in their view that their political choices are reasonable and the product of thought.  But what if they are not?  It would tend to explain the vast gulf in views betweeen the Left and the Right in America today.  And I have for some years been pointing out the various studies that have found that there is a substantial element of genetic inheritance behind our political preferences.  We are to a degree born to be Leftists or Rightists.

This sits comfortably with just about no-one so it behooves us to check and recheck the research concerned.  That has recently been done, looking at many of the bodies of data that enable us to research the matter.  The result is a remarkable degree of agreement that genetics IS a major factor influencing our political opinions.  The abstract of the paper concerned is given below.

The paper also tried to identify specific genes behind the effect but was unsuccessful.  Investigations of that sort are still at an early stage.  The paper also did not try to ascertain if there were any personality variables that mediated the genetic connection.  My deduction is that the correlation indicates that Leftists are just born miserable.  All the research certainly shows that conservatives are happier.

The paper below was concerened with detailed political questions  such as abortion, gay marriage etc.  It did not deal with actual vote at election time.  Is Democrat or Republican loyalty inherited too?  We do have some data on that from elsewhere which points to a somewhat qualified conclusion.  Hatemi et al (2007) found that vote was substantially inherited but only because many of the things influencing vote were inherited -- church attendance, specific attitudes etc.  Vote does not have its own set of genes behind it.

REFERENCE: Hatemi (2007) "The Genetics of Voting: An Australian Twin Study" Behav. Genet., 37:435–448

Genetic Influences on Political Ideologies: Genome - Wide Findings on Three Populations, and a Mega - Twin Analysis of 19 Measures of Political Ideologies from Five Western Democracies

Forthcoming in Behavior Genetics – Lindon Eaves Festschrift

By Peter K. Hatemi et al.


 Almost forty years ago evidence from large studies of adult twins and their relatives suggested that between 30 - 60% of the variance in Liberal and Conservative attitudes can be explained by genetic influences. However, these findings have not been widely accepted or incorporated into the dominant paradigms that explain the etiology of political ideology. This has been attributed in part to measurement and sample limitations as well the inability to identify specific genetic markers related to political ideology

Here we present results from original analys es of a combined sample of over 12,000 twins pairs, ascertained from nine different studies conducted in five western democracies (Australia, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, and the U.S.A.), sampled over the course of four decades. We provide definitive evidence that heritability plays a role in the formation of political ideology, regardless of how ideology is measured, the time period or population sampled. The only exception s are questions that explicitly use the phrase “Left - Right”.

We then present results from one of the first genome - wide association studies on political ideology using data from three samples : a 1990 Australian sample involving 6,894 individuals from 3,516 families; a 2008 Australian sample of 1,160 related individua ls from 635 families and a 2010 Swedish sample involving 3,334 individuals from 2,607 families . Several polymorphisms related to olfaction reached genome - wide significance in the 2008 Australian sample, but did not replicate across samples and remained suggestive in the meta - analysis. The combined evidence suggests that political ideology constitutes a fundamental aspect of one’s genetically informed psychological disposition, but as Fisher proposed long ago, genetic influences on complex traits will be composed of thousands of markers of very small effects


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