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July 10, 2006


Jeffrey Segal

Bill's "interaction" question is a crucial one, because genes often require environmental cues to be turned on. Thus it could well be that a predisposition for xenophobia (Alford, Funk and Hibbing report a heritability factor for immigration attitudes of .33) requires a perception of threat in order to be activated.

Thus if political self-selection is involved in geographic choices, the impact on national divisions could be more than merely additive.

Jeffrey Segal

In response to Jeff Y.:

Certainly nothing in the heritability literature prevents attitudes from changing over time. I will note that Corey Ditslear had a paper at the Midwest this year that makes use of the fact that
1) virtually every Supreme Court clerk has come to the Court from the USCA, and
2) the most liberal justices pick clerks almost exclusively from Democratic judges, and the most conservative justices pick clerks almost exclusively from Republican judges
to come up with a time-varying exogenous indicator of judicial preferences. Unfortunately, I cannot find the paper posted anyplace.

William Henderson

That clarification is helpful. But how does this inheritability interact with increased social mobility? It seems to me that red state/blue state could be an outcome that was several decades in the making. Further, inheritability interacting with mobility is going to affect the range of content of unshared environments on a location by location basis.

Obviously, I'll need to refer to the sources you've cited. My idle speculation could be all wrong. Very interesting stuff. bh.

Jeff Yates

This is a very interesting post that leads to a number of questions. What are the implications of this for analyzing the voting of Supreme Court Justices? Are their attitudes stable over time or do they change? If so, how do we best measure this?

Jeff S's comment above suggests that any change that might occur is likely to come from particular events, some of which might be measureable (through justice bios) and some not. Some behavioral research (I think Carsey and Layman, but I could be wrong) suggests that peoples' attitudes may change over time as their party shifts ideologically. I imagine that there may also be life events (again some discernable through justices' bios, but some not) that may also tend to yield attitudinal change, on average.

Further, might one of those "particular events" be the individual's assessment of public opinion? Perhaps, this type of analysis could potentially yield a measure of ideological change for justices over time that avoids the circularity problem?

Jeffrey Segal

The fact that political attitudes are heritable does not mean that they are only heritable. The genetics argument is not nature vs. nurture, but rather, nature and nurture. There's still plenty of room for environmental forces, but those forces appear to work mostly through one's "unshared environment", rather than through one's "shared environment."

Again, the best example of this is that biologically unrelated individuals who grow up as siblings show little correlations in their personalities or attitudes. That is, there's little systematic impact of their shared environment. But particular events, conversations, books, peers, and other aspects of one's unshared environment still have a substantial impact.

William Henderson

Jeff, I enjoyed this post, but it ends with a bit of a teaser. If virtually every social attitude is heritable, what role are we to assign to political discourse? Especially in an age of high mobility, perhaps our various metropolitan areas reflect a peculiar self-selection that augurs greater red state/blue state polarization with each passing year.

In other words, if determinism is one of the "implications" of these findings, that would be worth posting as well. bh.

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