The Relationship between Genes, Psychological Traits, and Political Participation


  • We thank the Jan Wallander and Tom Hedelius Foundation and the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research for financial support. The Swedish Twin Registry is supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council and the Ministry for Higher Education. The data used in this study belongs to the Swedish Twin Registry. To obtain the data from the Swedish Twin Registry, researchers must obtain approval from the Swedish Ethical Review Board and from the Steering Committee of the Swedish Twin Registry. Researchers using the data are required to follow the terms of an Assistance Agreement containing a number of clauses designed to ensure protection of privacy and compliance with relevant laws. For further information, contact The files used to construct the data set and perform the analysis are available in the AJPS Data Archive on Dataverse (


Recent research demonstrates that a wide range of political attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors can be explained in part by genetic variation. However, these studies have not yet identified the mechanisms that generate such a relationship. Some scholars have speculated that psychological traits mediate the relationship between genes and political participation, but so far there have been no empirical tests. Here we focus on the role of three psychological traits that are believed to influence political participation: cognitive ability, personal control, and extraversion. Utilizing a unique sample of more than 2,000 Swedish twin pairs, we show that a common genetic factor can explain most of the relationship between these psychological traits and acts of political participation, as well as predispositions related to participation. While our analysis is not a definitive test, our results suggest an upper bound for a proposed mediation relationship between genes, psychological traits, and political participation.