Is There a Linkage Between Genetics and Political Affiliation?

(Posted 2/8/2012) - I found the article by Chris Mooney, titled "Want to Understand Republicans? First Understand Evolution" interesting and thought provoking. Its premise is that conservative versus liberal political affiliations are tied to genetic predispositions.

I don't think this is much more than an initial hypotheses, with some preliminary data that appears to support the thesis. But it does open up a line of thought that is interesting.

I've excerpted the text from the article that I found most evocative. The full article by Chris Mooney is linked here.

Excerpt begins:
As the new research suggests, conservatism is largely a defensive ideology -- and therefore, much more appealing to people who go through life sensitive and highly attuned to aversive or threatening aspects of their environments. By contrast, liberalism can be thought of as an exploratory ideology -- much more appealing to people who go through life trying things out and seeking the new.

All of this is reflected, in a measurable way, in the physiological responses that liberals and conservatives show to emotionally evocative but otherwise entirely apolitical images -- and also to images of politicians, either on their own side or from across the aisle.

To show as much, Nebraska-Lincoln researchers had liberals and conservatives look at varying combinations of images that were meant to excite different emotions. There were images that caused fear and disgust -- a spider crawling on a person's face, maggots in an open wound -- but also images that made you feel happy: a smiling child, a bunny rabbit. The researchers also mixed in images of liberal and conservative politicians -- Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

While they did all of this, the scientists measured the subjects' "skin conductance" -- the moistening of their sweat glands, an indication of sympathetic nervous system arousal -- as well as where their eyes went first and how long they stayed there.

The difference was striking: Conservatives showed much stronger skin responses to negative images, compared with the positive ones. Liberals showed the opposite. And when the scientists turned to studying eye gaze or "attentional" patterns, they found that conservatives looked much more quickly at negative or threatening images, and spent more time fixating on them. Liberals, in contrast, were less quickly drawn to negative images -- and spent more time looking at positive ones.

Similar things have been found before -- but the big breakthrough in the new study was showing that these tendencies carried over perfectly to the different sides' responses to images of politicians. Conservatives had stronger rapid fire physiological responses to images of Bill and Hillary Clinton -- apparently perceiving them much as they perceive a threat. By contrast, liberals showed stronger responses to the same two politicians, apparently perceiving them much as they perceive an appetitive or positive stimulus.

As the authors concluded, "The aversive in life is more physiologically and cognitively tangible to some people and they tend to gravitate to the political right."
Excerpt Ends

So, perhaps hardwired (genetic) differences in threat perception / response play a bigger role in determining political affiliation than does higher reasoning? Interesting hypothesis!

Post-script (2/13/2012) - I found this article in the New York Times today. It supports the above thesis indirectly. In the US research has shown that when sample counties economies spiral downward the voting base shifts towards conservatism and towards voting Republican.

Could this be a fear response? Is it possible that as people see their lives becoming less viable economically they become fearful and begin to worry about future sustainability of the government safety-net programs that are currently helping them and their family. Do they project this fear as an imminent fiscal and moral failure of society and its agencies?

Along comes a politician who tell these folks that the government is creating the problems they are experiencing and that government safety-net programs are the very cause of societies ills - and they jump on board in a visceral response.

Maybe arch-conservative actor Craig Nelson's famous quote on the Glen Beck show "I've been on food stamps and welfare, did anybody help me out? No. No!" is really just the illogical projection of a fearful soul?

(PPS - 2/27/12) - Another article which attempts to explain human behaviors of the conservative - liberal kind. Apparently facts and 'what we know' can live in separate universes for a time, as described in this Salon article by Chris Mooney - Link is here . Or one may search on "conservative smart idiot."

And I think this article in New York - the Magazine offers a rationale for why the Republican Party has moved far to the right in the last 3 years. Click here to understand the strategy and the ramifications.

PPPS - I think this soapbox post will be interesting to come back to after the 2012 elections (and the 2014 midterms). Keven Drum at "Mother Jones" takes exception to Jon Chait's shrinking GOP argument (above). Kevin believes that political parties ultimately adapt to match objectives with a constituency sufficient to win office. Kevin predicts that if the current ultra-conservative approach doesn't win for the GOP it will just rebrand over time (to attract Latino, Black, and women voters).

Here's the article link.