Voting today? It could be in your genes

Twin studies, including one done done by a London, Ont.-based researcher, show that political engagement is determined at least partially by our genetics.

Twin studies indicate that political engagement is about 50% nurture, 50% nature

Brescia University College sociology professor Edward Bell studies political engagement. (Supplied by Brescia University)

Like it or not, genes likely play a role in why you vote (or don't) in today's federal election. 

Twin studies, including one recently done by a London, Ont.-based researcher, show that political engagement is determined at least partially by our genetics. 

In the question of nature versus nurture, whether someone votes, takes part in a boycott, or comes out to a political rally is at least 50 per cent determined by our genes, said Edward Bell, a sociology professor at Brescia University College who recently published a study that looked at the political engagement of German twins.

"What we've found is that the proclivity to engage in politics isn't entirely learned," Bell said.

"We find that half of the variation in political engagement is attributable to genetic effects, and the other half attributable to environmental effects, like if you have friends who are politically engaged, if you had a family who talked a lot about politics, etc." 

"It's not one thing or the other. It's biological, genetic factors interacting with the environment," Bell said. 

Twin studies are done by researchers to reveal whether our genetics, or nature, or our environment, or nurture, influence certain parts of our behaviour or traits. 

It's long been known that psychological traits such as being open to new experiences are associated with an interest in  politics and taking part in political activities such as protests. 

"What a lot of studies have found is that the more open a person is, the more likely it is that they will be engaged in politics," Bell said. "We checked that out in our study and we confirmed that." 

Strategic voting is very limited, with research suggesting maybe 10 to 15 per cent of people consider strategic voting and that less than five per cent in previous Canadian elections actually voted strategically, says one election analyst. (The Canadian Press)

Bell worked with colleagues in Germany and the United States and asked German twins about their political involvement. 

"We tried to explain why some of these psychological factors, like openness to new ideas, are linked to political engagement. What we found was that there was a genetic influence on that. Roughly two-thirds of that association was explainable in terms of common genes," he said.

The twins were asked if they've ever attended a political meeting, attended a boycott, voted or if tried to contact a political candidate, said Bell. 

"It's important to study political engagement because it is a societal good. The more people are politically active, the stronger our democracy will be."