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Keywords:

  • top-down;
  • bottom-up;
  • ideology;
  • behavioral genetics

Ideological preferences within the American electorate are contingent on both the environmental conditions that provide the content of the contemporary political debate and internal predispositions that motivate people to hold liberal or conservative policy preferences. In this article we apply Jost, Federico, and Napier's top-down/bottom-up theory of political attitude formation to a genetically informative population sample. In doing so, we further develop the theory by operationalizing the top-down pathway to be a function of the social environment and the bottom-up pathway as a latent set of genetic factors. By merging insights from psychology, behavioral genetics, and political science, we find strong support for the top-down/bottom-up framework that segregates the two independent pathways in the formation of political attitudes and identifies a different pattern of relationships between political attitudes at each level of analysis.