Political Behavior

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 191–212 | Cite as

Elitist theory and political tolerance in Western Europe

  • James L. Gibson
  • Raymond M. Duch


This paper addresses the problem of democratic elitism within the context of Western European politics. An entrenched assertion of the so-calledelitist theory of democracy is that elites are more strongly committed to democratic values such as political tolerance than are ordinary citizens. The processes through which elites become more tolerant include political socialization, resocialization, political practice, and experience. Some have even argued that elites are the primary carriers of thedemocratic creed. Our purpose here is to test several hypothese drawn from elitist theory. Relying on opinion surveys conducted in each of the twelve nations of the European Community in 1988, we focus on political tolerance. Our basic hypothesis is that political activism contributes to greater political tolerance. Special attention is given to a sample of opinion leaders as a test of the elitist theory. The analysis is conducted both at the level of the individual citizen and the level of the nation state. This is one of very few efforts to test elitist theory from a broad, cross-national perspective. Consequently, the analysis will be crucial in recasting elitist theory to comport more closely with empirical evidence.


Empirical Evidence Nation State European Community Political Activism Opinion Leader 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • James L. Gibson
    • 1
  • Raymond M. Duch
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of HoustonHouston

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