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Genetic predictors of educational attainment and intelligence test performance predict voter turnout

Abstract

Although the genetic influence on voter turnout is substantial (typically 40–50%), the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Across the social sciences, research suggests that ‘resources for politics’ (as indexed notably by educational attainment and intelligence test performance) constitute a central cluster of factors that predict electoral participation. Educational attainment and intelligence test performance are heritable. This suggests that the genotypes that enhance these phenotypes could positively predict turnout. To test this, we conduct a genome-wide complex trait analysis of individual-level turnout. We use two samples from the Danish iPSYCH case–cohort study, including a nationally representative sample as well as a sample of individuals who are particularly vulnerable to political alienation due to psychiatric conditions (n = 13,884 and n = 33,062, respectively). Using validated individual-level turnout data from the administrative records at the polling station, genetic correlations and Mendelian randomization, we show that there is a substantial genetic overlap between voter turnout and both educational attainment and intelligence test performance.

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Fig. 1: Heritability estimates for voting in municipal, European and national elections.
Fig. 2: Prevalence of voter turnout by polygenic score percentiles.
Fig. 3: Genetic correlations between voter turnout and non-voting traits that show significant genetic correlation after FDR adjustment in at least one of the turnout phenotypes in the two samples by election.

Data availability

Owing to the consent structure of the iPSYCH and Danish law, the data cannot be shared publicly owing to its sensitive nature. The data can be accessed from secure servers59. For further information, please contact P.B.M. (pbm@econ.au.dk). For access to the data in Supplementary Table 5, please contact K.M.H. (kmh@ifs.ku.dk) as these register data also cannot be shared publicly.

Code availability

Code and scripts available from the corresponding author on request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank S. Oskarsson and members of the political behaviour research section at the Department of Political Science, Aarhus University for comments on previous versions of this manuscript. This research was supported by the Interacting Minds Centre, Aarhus University (seed grant no. 26223). The iPSYCH consortium is supported by the Lundbeck foundation (grant nos. R1-2=A9118 and R155-2014-1724). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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Contributions

L.A., E.A. and M.B.P. conceived the study. L.A., V.A., A.J.S., A.B., E.A. and M.B.P. designed the study. L.A., V.A. and A.J.S. drafted the manuscript. L.A., V.A., A.J.S., K.M.H., E.A., A.B. and M.B.P. discussed the results and revised the manuscript. V.A. and A.J.S. conducted all of the analyses except that K.M.H. conducted the analyses for Supplementary Table 5. K.M.H. collected the turnout data. P.B.M., M.N., A.D.B., D.M.H., T.W., O.M. and E.A. designed, implemented, and/or oversaw the collection and generation of the IPSYCH data. All of the authors (L.A., V.A., K.M.H., A.J.S., T.W., O.M., A.D.B., D.M.H., M.N., P.B.M., W.K.T., A.B., E.A. and M.B.P.) approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Esben Agerbo.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Details on the iPSYCH case–cohort sample and the turnout data, summary statistics, power analysis, family-based heritability estimates; information about the genetic score analyses; information about the GWAS; information about the genetic correlations using LDHub; and information about the Mendelian randomization analyses.

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Supplementary Tables

Genetic correlations between voter turnout and non-voting traits (LDSC analyses).

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Aarøe, L., Appadurai, V., Hansen, K.M. et al. Genetic predictors of educational attainment and intelligence test performance predict voter turnout. Nat Hum Behav 5, 281–291 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-00952-2

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