Scientific American.com reports on a study, by political scientist James Fowler, suggesting that the desire to cast a ballot is genetic. That's one explanation for the finding that identical twins are more alike in voter behavior than are fraternal twins, who share less DNA:
Fowler notes that people who vote often do so even when they know their lone ballot will not change the outcome of an election. “It’s almost like voters are programmed to keep voting, even when their common sense tells them it is probably useless,” he states....
Fowler hypothesizes that because “we obviously did not vote in large-scale elections in the Pleistocene,” the drive to vote or participate in politics may be linked with genes underlying more ancient behaviors, such as innate dispositions toward cooperation.
I wonder whether "innate dispositions" explain not only the eagerness to vote, but also the degree to which one thinks society's very existence depends on the outcome of an election. And I'm not just talking about presidential elections, but about zoning variances being put to a vote at town meetings. The idea of a new curb cut in the neighborhood seems to unleash raw, primal emotions in some people.
The idea that genetics trumps get-out-the-vote efforts is not inconsistent with another study released this year, which said one's interest in politics comes directly from one's parents. I included the item in the "Statistically Significant" department of the current issue of CommonWealth:
Adolescents who discuss current events with their parents are more civically engaged and more eager to vote than their peers, say three researchers in the July issue of PS: Political Science and Politics. That may seem obvious, but the more surprising result of their regression-analysis study is how little socioeconomic factors matter. “The effect size of the youth-discussion variable,” write Hugh McIntosh, Daniel Hart, and James Youniss, “is three times larger than any other parent or youth predictor” in determining whether a high schooler regularly follows the news. The study showed no significant correlation between “news monitoring” and whether one’s parents were homeowners, were steadily employed, or even whether they had voted themselves during the previous five years. “Who parents are” is less important than “what parents do with their children,” the authors conclude.