American Political Science Review

Research Article

Genetic Variation in Political Participation


a1 University of California, San Diego

a2 University of Southern California

a3 University of California, San Diego


The decision to vote has puzzled scholars for decades. Theoretical models predict little or no variation in participation in large population elections and empirical models have typically accounted for only a relatively small portion of individual-level variance in turnout behavior. However, these models have not considered the hypothesis that part of the variation in voting behavior can be attributed to genetic effects. Matching public voter turnout records in Los Angeles to a twin registry, we study the heritability of political behavior in monozygotic and dizygotic twins. The results show that a significant proportion of the variation in voting turnout can be accounted for by genes. We also replicate these results with data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and show that they extend to a broad class of acts of political participation. These are the first findings to suggest that humans exhibit genetic variation in their tendency to participate in political activities.


c1 James H. Fowler is Professor, Political Science Department, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive 0521, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521. ( or by Web at

c2 Laura A. Baker is Professor, Psychology Department, University of Southern California, 3620 South McClintock Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061.

c3 Christopher T. Dawes is Professor, Political Science Department, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive 0521, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521.


We thank T. K. Ahn, John Aldrich, Robert Bates, Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, Nicholas Christakis, Gary Cox, Eric Dickson, Jeff Gill, Don Green, Zoli Hajnal, Ben Highton, Robert Huckfeldt, Kosuke Imai, Gary Jacobson, Cindy Kam, Sam Kernell, Gary King, Thad Kousser, Michael Laver, Arend Lijphart, Peter Loewen, Gerry Mackie, Ann Pearson, Maggie Penn, Mark Pletcher, Eric Plutzer, Sam Popkin, Pete Richerson, Brian Sala, Ethan Scheiner, Darren Schreiber, John Scott, Jas Sekhon, David Singer, Oleg Smirnov, Matt Stephenson, John Zaller, Langche Zeng, and Alan Zuckerman for helpful comments. We also thank participants in seminars at Loyola University of Chicago, the Harris School at the University of Chicago, Stanford University, University of California-Irvine, Vanderbilt, Univeristy of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska, University of Southern California, Washington University at St. Louis, and at panels for the 2007 Behavior Genetics Association Annual Meeting, the 2006 Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting and the 2007 American Political Science Association Annual Meeting. Funding for this research was provided by the Institute of Government Affairs at the University of California, Davis. The contact author can be reached by email at or by web at