Trends in Public Opinion: A Compendium of Survey Data

By Richard G. Niemi; John Mueller et al. | Go to book overview

5
Political Tolerance

The benchmark study of political tolerance is Samuel Stouffer's classic Communism, Conformity, and Civil Liberties, published in 1955 and based on a large survey conducted in 1954 at the height (or depth) of the McCarthy era. At the center of the Stouffer survey was a series of questions about Communists, Socialists, and anti-religionists that sought to assess the public's willingness to allow such people to speak and to hold various kinds of jobs.

Twenty years later, comparative data became available. In 1973 Stouffer's survey was substantially replicated ( Nunn, Crockett, and Williams 1978) and, beginning in 1972, a battery of Stouffer questions was included on the General Social Survey. On the next pages, much of this material is arrayed.

Analyses of these data have generally concluded that there has been a very substantial, broadly based, increase in tolerance since 1954 in the American public ( Cutler and Kaufman, 1975; Davis, 1975; Erskine and Siegel, 1975; Nunn, Crockett, and Williams, 1978; McClosky and Brill, 1983, pp. 434-438; Mueller, 1988; see, however, Sullivan, Piereson, and Marcus, 1979, and Sullivan and Marcus, 1988). This is particularly notable in questions about Socialists, antireligionists, and admitted Communists (Tables 5.1-5.6 and 5.10-5.17). For questions about people who have been accused of being Communists but have denied this under oath, however, there has been little change: Americans were comparatively tolerant of these people in 1954 and were little more so in the 1970s (5.18-5.25).

Exactly when what might be called the "Stouffer shift" took place is not clear because the questions were not replicated between 1954 and 1972. Data from a related question, however (Table 5.36), suggest that intolerance lingered on at the levels found during the McCarthy era until 1963 at least. At the end of the 1960s concern about machinations of the

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