Why do some people consider voting to be an important moral obligation while others brush it off? New research has found evidence that your genes have a large influence on your sense of civic duty.
“Voting is one of the most basic ways of participating in a democracy,” said lead author Aaron C. Weinschenk of the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay. “As political scientists, my co-author (Chris Dawes at NYU) and I think it is important to understand why some people to feel a strong obligation to vote in elections (and why others feel little obligation). Our paper takes a look at whether the sense of civic duty to vote is more deeply-rooted within people (potentially rooted in biological factors or personality traits—which are heritable) than previously thought.”
“The conventional wisdom is that political orientations are primarily shaped by political socialization (e.g., parents, teachers, peers, etc). We find that the sense of civic duty is heritable and also that there is genetic overlap between personality traits (which we, and many psychologists before us, find to be heritable) and civic duty.”
The study, “Genes, Personality Traits, and the Sense of Civic Duty“, was published June 14, 2017 in the peer-reviewed journal American Politics Research.
By statistically analyzing data from twins who had participated in the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, the researchers found evidence that people have different heritable predispositions to how they feel about politics.
Specifically, they found that about 70% to 87% of the relationship between civic duty and four of the Big Five personality traits could be attributed to genetic factors. (The four personality traits being Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, and Openness.)
“People tend to overlook (or not even consider) the fact that our political attitudes and orientations might be influenced by factors other than our environment. Our paper illustrates deeply-rooted predispositions influence the sense of duty to vote,” Weinschenk told PsyPost.
Civic duty appears to have a strong genetic influence — but that doesn’t mean it is biologically “hardwired.” Still, the findings suggest it may be easier to motivate some individuals to vote than others.
“This finding may be of interest to people who are interested in increasing civic duty among individuals. Our paper illustrates that some people are predisposed to feel a sense of civic obligation while others are not. Thus, not everyone may react in the same way to attempts (e.g., educational programs, messages, etc.) to increase civic duty.”
Scientists have long used twin studies to determine the influences of genes vs. environment. But carrying out such research can be an arduous task.
“I think all studies need to be replicated in order to make sure the findings hold up in different samples, contexts, etc. Given the difficulty of getting data on identical and fraternal twins (necessary to estimate heritability), political items (e.g., survey questions on civic duty), and personality traits, we were only able to locate one dataset to use in our paper,” Weinschenk explained.
“Hopefully, we will be able to develop or identify additional datasets that will enable us to replicate the study. I also think that other personality traits should be examined. We focus on one of the most well-known models of personality (the Big Five model), but there are numerous other personality traits that could influence the sense of civic duty and would be worth investigating. ”
“We are also working on papers on genes, patience, and turnout. So, lots more work coming!”