A polygenic score for educational attainment partially predicts voter turnout

Christopher T. Dawes, Aysu Okbay, Sven Oskarsson, Aldo Rustichini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Twin and adoption studies have shown that individual differences in political participation can be explained, in part, by genetic variation. However, these research designs cannot identify which genes are related to voting or the pathways through which they exert influence, and their conclusions rely on possibly restrictive assumptions. In this study, we use three different US samples and a Swedish sample to test whether genes that have been identified as associated with educational attainment, one of the strongest correlates of political participation, predict self-reported and validated voter turnout. We find that a polygenic score capturing individuals' genetic propensity to acquire education is significantly related to turnout. The strongest associations we observe are in second-order midterm elections in the United States and European Parliament elections in Sweden, which tend to be viewed as less important by voters, parties, and the media and thus present a more information-poor electoral environment for citizens to navigate. A within-family analysis suggests that individuals' education-linked genes directly affect their voting behavior, but, for second-order elections, it also reveals evidence of genetic nurture. Finally, a mediation analysis suggests that educational attainment and cognitive ability combine to account for between 41% and 63% of the relationship between the genetic propensity to acquire education and voter turnout.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022715118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume118
Issue number50
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 14 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. S.O. received support from the Swedish Research Council (Grants 2017-02472 and 2019-00244) and Riksbankens Jubileums-fond (Grant P18-0782:1). This research uses data from the WLS, Add Health, and MCTFR. The WLS is funded by the National Institute on Aging (Grants R01 AG009775, R01 AG033285, R01 AG060737, and R01 AG041868). Add Health is directed by Robert A. Hummer and funded by the National Institute on Aging Cooperative Agreements U01 AG071448 (Hummer) and U01AG071450 (Aiello and Hummer) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Waves I through V data are from the Add Health Program Project, Grant P01 HD31921 (Harris) from Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Add Health was designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The MCTFR is supported by grants from the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Grants AA09367 and AA11886), the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant MH066140), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Grants DA05147 and DA013240).

Funding Information:
S.O. received support from the Swedish Research Council (Grants 2017-02472 and 2019-00244) and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (Grant P18-0782:1). This research uses data from the WLS, Add Health, and MCTFR. The WLS is funded by the National Institute on Aging (Grants R01 AG009775, R01 AG033285, R01 AG060737, and R01 AG041868). Add Health is directed by Robert A. Hummer and funded by the National Institute on Aging Cooperative Agreements U01 AG071448 (Hummer) and U01AG071450 (Aiello and Hummer) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Waves I through V data are from the Add Health Program Project, Grant P01 HD31921 (Harris) from Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Add Health was designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The MCTFR is supported by grants from the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Grants AA09367 and AA11886), the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant MH066140), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (Grants DA05147 and DA013240).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Cognitive ability
  • Education
  • Polygenic score
  • Turnout
  • Voting

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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