Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Democratization and Political Tolerance in Seventeen Countries: A Multi-Level Model of Democratic Learning

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Democratization and Political Tolerance in Seventeen Countries: A Multi-Level Model of Democratic Learning

Article excerpt

Research on mass support for democracies shows that popular support for democratic norms is at an historic high. At the same time, research on political tolerance draws considerably bleaker conclusions about the democratic capacity of mass publics. We attempt to synthesize the essential lessons of these two literatures into a general model of democratic learning which argues that exposure to the rough-and-tumble of democratic politics should enhance political tolerance. We provide a test of the model using multilevel data from a diverse set of 17 countries. At the macro-level, we find, consistent with our theory, that: (1) political tolerance is greater in stable democracies that have endured over time (the longer the better), independent of a nation's socioeconomic development; and (2) that federal systems increase levels of tolerance, as well. At the micro-level, we find that democratic activism, or using civil liberties, enhances political tolerance, independent of a host of other individual-level predictors. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our findings for studies of democratization and political tolerance.

Research on mass support for democracies appears to portray an inevitable march toward liberal democracies. Not only have the past 20 years witnessed the spectacular collapse of several autocracies, but public support for democratic regimes is at an historic high (Norris 1999; Klingemann 1999). Democracies, as opposed to authoritarian regimes, are preferred by large majorities not only in affluent countries, but also by majorities of publics in lesser developed countries across the world. In addition, basic democratic norms-free speech, free elections, a free press, the right to demonstrate-are widely endorsed, both in advanced democracies and Central Europe (Dalton 1994; Fuchs and Roller 1998). Despite the caveats concerning the fragile nature of new institutions, the need to consolidate new systems, and economic obstacles, this literature implies that the future of democracies is bright and that a growing number of citizens around the world enjoy an unprecedented level of protection and guarantees by democratic institutions.

We endorse this assessment. At the same time, however, we believe it is necessary to evaluate the prospects and limits of the democratization literature in light of research on political tolerance, defined here as "a willingness to permit the expression of ideas or interests one opposes" (Sullivan, Pierson, and Marcus 1982: 2). It is a widely accepted finding in scholarly work on political tolerance that majorities in advanced democracies usually hold intolerant views. That is, while most citizens across the world support democratic rights in the abstract, just as the democratization literature shows, these same publics are usually considerably less likely to extend these rights to disliked groups. And this "slippage" between support for democratic values and applications of political tolerance is found in a range of countries, including mature democracies such as the US (e.g., Sullivan, Pierson and Marcus 1982) and Great Britain (e.g., Barnum and Sullivan 1990), newly established democracies like Israel (e.g., Shamir and Sullivan 1983; Shamir 1991) and in new democracies such as those in the former Soviet Union (e.g., Gibson and Duch 1993).

It is curious that the two literatures-with few exceptions (e.g., Rohrschneider 1996; Sniderman et al. 1996)-rarely intersect. They both speak to the prospects of democratic systems; and scholars usually share a concern for the viability of liberal democracies. And yet, the democratization and tolerance literatures coexist side-by-side without being effectively linked. Studies of general democratic norms-while impressive in their global scope-usually do not consider whether publics actually extend abstract democratic norms to disliked opponents. In turn, while tolerance studies often consider the connection between the two levels, they typically examine one country at a time or at most a small handful of nations (e. …

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