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The Behavioral Consequences of Political Tolerance

Abbarno, Aaron (2014) The Behavioral Consequences of Political Tolerance. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Effective and enduring democratic government requires broad public support for basic democratic orientations. Chief among these are political participation and political tolerance, which traditionally have been viewed as closely linked: virtually everyone agrees that democracy works best when people actively engage in political life and when they do not exclude others from doing the same. However, empirical evidence to date challenges the idea that political tolerance and civic engagement are positively, or even directly, related.

What are the behavioral consequences of political tolerance? Using novel experiments that randomly assign subjects to tolerate the rights of groups they strongly dislike, this dissertation finds that political tolerance directly stimulates participation in specific modes of civic engagement. I argue that tolerance for political minorities is a highly unpopular position that orients citizens toward disagreement and dissent and reduces conflict aversion among the politically tolerant relative to the intolerant. Through this mechanism, upholding the rights of groups that society prefers to repress independently raises the likelihood of participation in social modes of action in which the risk of disagreement and conflict with other citizens is high (e.g. protests), but does little to facilitate individual modes of action in which disagreement and conflict are unlikely (e.g. voting).

My evidence is based on two methodological innovations. First, I employ a “self-persuasion” experiment in which subjects develop original arguments to convince a discussion partner to either permit (tolerate) or ban (not tolerate) public demonstrations by the subject’s most disliked group. Second, I directly observe subjects’ post-test participation using overt measures of subjects’ political behavior rather than survey items to measure only their behavioral intentions. Tracing the effects of randomized tolerance on subjects’ overt political behavior reveals, in support of my hypotheses, that practicing tolerance directly stimulates collective-contentious activism (in this case, signing one’s name to a petition to challenge the status quo), but has no effect on individual action (i.e. making an anonymous donation). I further corroborate these findings by applying nonparametric matching techniques to cross-national survey data from the U.S. and Europe, and through cross-national survey experiments that test my model in the U.S. and Hungary.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee Chairfinkel, stevenfinkel@pitt.eduFINKEL
Committee Memberhurwitz, jonhurwitz@pitt.eduHURWITZ
Committee Membersbragia, albertasbragia@pitt.eduSBRAGIA
Committee Membergibson,
Date: 28 January 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 18 October 2013
Approval Date: 28 January 2014
Submission Date: 5 December 2013
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 315
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Political Science
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: tolerance; political participation; causal inference
Date Deposited: 28 Jan 2014 15:40
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:16


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