Politics of Genes: Are People Liberal by Nature?

New research suggests that a person’s political beliefs may be in part genetic.  In a new study, scientists have pinpointed a gene that they suspect is partially responsible for people developing into liberals. The key word is partially.

Of the people in the study who were liberal leaning many of them had a similar gene variant — DRD4. In fact, DRD4 is referred to as the “thrill-seeking” gene.  Gambling, extreme extroversion, sexual promiscuity and other adventurous human traits have also been blamed on DRD4 expression. One study suggested people with the DRD4 variant gene expression were more likely to have one-night stands and commit acts of adultery.  Still, liberal behavior doesn’t necessarily equate to liberal politics; we are not robots acting only as programmed by our genes.

Indeed, the research showed that DRD4 expression alone is not enough to make someone a Democrat, as much as that may have made a good headline when this research was first released. No, rather it was a combination of DRD4 expression and varied socialization. Those with large groups of diverse friends were more likely to be left leaning.  Researchers suspect that in having so many friends, a person inevitably encounters people with a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds, thus making them more empathetic. Perhaps, since the gene is linked to extroversion, people with this DRD4 gene expression are more likely to have lots of social interactions in their lifetime, thus leading to a more worldly view.

So is it the DRD4 expression or childhood friends that influence a person’s political identity?  Their research points to a combination of the factors.  In the eternal debate between nature versus nurture, the answer in this case appears to be both.

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