It’s In Your Genes

Just in time for election season, UCSD researchers have revealed some very interesting information about voting patterns. As the campaigns of both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney intensify, professors at UCSD are tapping into what could be a powerful impetus behind an individual’s political ideology — DNA.

That human genetics could have a part in our political disposition isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem.

“Gene expression affects neurotransmitters, which affects personality, which affects political behavior,” said UCSD Professor James Fowler in an interview for the website Doctor’s Lounge.

As nineteenth-century geneticist Sir Francis Galton recognized, gene sequences play a significant part in a person’s personality and character qualities, so it’s not hard to see how this can play into political behavior.

“A person who feels strongly about pro-life or anti-abortion could have a very strong urge to survive and procreate due to their DNA sequences,” Fowler said.

Researchers and political scientists have been studying how genetic combinations can affect political and social behavior. For the past eight years, researchers have examined the correlation between gene patterns and behavior to see just how strongly DNA can influence ideology. Professor Peter Hatemi, an associate professor of microbiology, biochemistry and political science at Pennsylvania State University, along with Brown University political science professor Rose McDermott, have worked on this research and compiled information gathered from numerous experiments.

In one, researchers studied sets of identical and fraternal twins over time to determine the similarity of their political preferences. The data indicated that though identical twins followed similar political patterns into adulthood, there was greater variation between fraternal twins.

“Genes can determine one’s ideology and political participation,” Professor Fowler said. “For identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genes, their views tend to stay the same versus a set of fraternal twins, who only share half of their genes.”

Genetic makeup isn’t the only thing that affects political ideology. Family and environment play an important role, and can result in vast variations in thought or action. According to Hatemi and his team, party identification is strongly affected by upbringing and family traditions, while political ideology such as liberal or conservative views are affected by genetics. This means that someone with a liberal mindset on current issues, can still see himself or herself as a conservative because their family is right-leaning. Hence the millions of young people who support gay marriage and abortion but consider themselves Republican.

Who and what you surround yourself with can affect your behavior as well. “Social networks are extremely powerful, and I do think that environment will have an effect, even with the strength of genetic influence,” said Fowler. “On the other hand, one of the interesting things is that people don’t change their minds too much. [Political behavior] is a very stable trait. This is why often people will still stick to the same viewpoint even if presented with strong evidence to support the opposite side.”

The influences of DNA do not reach their high point until a person has reached between 21 and 25 years of age, which is when many young adults leave their parents’ homes.

“The family environment is so strong that it overrides any genetic similarity,” Hatemi told Doctor’s Lounge. “But when you leave home you go your own path.”

So if you find that your views have suddenly leaned towards the right after leaving your Democrat family, or you are cheering at a Republican rally even if you don’t intend to vote for Mitt Romney, it might be because of your genes.

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