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A polygenic score for educational attainment partially predicts voter turnout
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America  (IF11.205),  Pub Date : 2021-12-14, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2022715118
Christopher T. Dawes, Aysu Okbay, Sven Oskarsson, Aldo Rustichini

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.