Sense of Control and Voting: A Genetically-Driven Relationship

Levente Littvay, Paul T. Weith, Christopher T. Dawes

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Objectives: The impact of political efficacy on political participation has been established in numerous classical studies of political behavior. However, the effects of more general measures of efficacy on political efficacy and voter turnout have received almost no attention. Additionally, seemingly independent contemporary developments in the field of political science proposed that political participation is heritable. In this study, we propose to link the two literatures, highlighting one possible mechanism through which genetic inheritance of political behavior is possible in the absence of the evolutionary time horizons of voting behavior. We theorize that heritability of psychological dispositions, such as one's sense of control, is more plausible and indirectly, through political efficacy, could have an influence on one's decision to vote. Methods: We test our hypotheses using a classical twin study design (ACE models) and Cholesky decomposition models on data from the MIDUS (first wave) and MNTPS twin surveys. Results: Empirically we find a relationship between general efficacy and turnout. We show that numerous operationalizations of efficacy are highly heritable and their covariance with turnout is predominantly driven by underlying additive genetic sources. On the other hand, environmental covariation between general and political efficacy and turnout is not significantly different from zero. Conclusions: Our analysis contributes to a better understanding of how one's sense of control influences voting behavior. Our results provide sufficient evidence to claim that the covariation between these two traits can primarily be attributed to genetic factors. However, this is certainly not the only pathway that explains the heritability of voter turnout.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1236-1252
    Number of pages17
    JournalSocial Science Quarterly
    Issue number5
    StatePublished - Dec 2011

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Social Sciences


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