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Where have all the rational voters gone?

This Magazine Staff

Although a lot of us would hate to admit this, myself included, we are, in at least some very significant ways, determined by our genes. We are open to new experiences; dogmatic; and open-minded, among other personality traits, because of genetic inclinations. But what’s more, researchers are now saying these traits affect our political orientation. So, my genes indirectly, but surely, affect my voting preferences! Some people just can’t help but be conservative, while others liberal. Also, a study being published today says our physiological tendencies affect our views on specific policies.
From today’s Globe and Mail:
“The researchers examined 46 individuals with strong political attitudes and found that those with “measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism and gun control.”
On the other hand, “individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favour defence spending, capital punishment, patriotism and the Iraq war.””
All of this raises doubts about our claim to being rational decision makers during election time. The majority of us will be voting on the basis of genetic predispositions; heritable ideological outlooks; and just plain knee-jerk reactions. So what’s the point of debating the policy promises of Harper, Dion, Layton, May, and Duceppe?

Well, despite all this research, I think there is a point. Our genes might affect our minds, let’s grant that, but our minds are perfectly capable of clearing genetic hurdles. It might be difficult for our dogmatic friends, but they can learn to be a little more humble in their opinions. The open-minded soul can become narrow and rigid, xenophobic even. And the easily frightened defence-spender may become bold and fearless. Anything is possible. But only with constant engagement and effort. So, on with the debates, party leaders. We’ll try to listen for a change.

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