The impact of political participation on political tolerance in America

Date of Completion

January 2001


American Studies|Political Science, General




This research project asks: what impact does political participation have on an individual's level of political tolerance? The project aims to fulfill a number of objectives. First, the research demonstrates that rather than being a unidimensional construct, the concept of tolerance is multidimensional and runs on an abstract to concrete continuum. Second, the project addresses the discrepancy between the American public's level of support for civil liberties in the abstract and their level of support for those same liberties applied to concrete situations. Third and most importantly, the research's aim was to demonstrate the impact of political participation on abstract and diffuse tolerance, independent of other variables. ^ The model employed in this dissertation classifies tolerance into two categories—abstract and concrete. Consistent with previous work on tolerance, this study finds consistently higher support for abstract tolerance than for concrete tolerance. ^ The data reviewed in this dissertation demonstrates a statistically significant bivariate relationship between various types of political participation and an individual's level of political tolerance measured by support for civil liberties. In addition, the research presented demonstrates that while there are influences common to both abstract and concrete tolerance, concrete tolerance is impacted by variables that have no impact on levels of abstract tolerance. ^ Multivariate analysis reveals that abstract tolerance is significantly influenced by race, level of formal education, ideology (being liberal) and level of political participation. Abstract tolerance, then, is a product of formal learning (education), informal learning (participation), life experience (race), and an individual's belief system (ideology). In addition to race, formal education, ideology and participation, concrete political tolerance is influenced by age, gender, primary news medium, and Internet usage. ^ This project also discusses the research findings in the context of each of the previously defined objectives and relates their implications to the study of political participation, political tolerance and American democracy. ^