Does Intolerance Dampen Dissent? Macro-Tolerance and Protest in American Metropolitan Areas

  • Christopher Claassen
  • James L. Gibson
Original Paper


Political tolerance has long been regarded as one of the most important democratic values because intolerant political cultures are believed to foster conformity and inhibit dissent. Although widely endorsed, this theory has rarely been investigated. Using multilevel regression with poststratification to measure levels of macro-tolerance in U.S. metropolitan areas, and event data to measure rates of protest, we test whether cultures of intolerance do indeed inhibit public expressions of dissent. We find that they do: levels of macro-tolerance are positively and strongly associated with higher rates of protest in American metropolitan areas. Our findings have implications for the study of political tolerance, for normative theories of free speech and other civil liberties, and for scholarship on protest and collective action.


Political tolerance Dissent Protest Political culture Multilevel regression with poststratification 



This research was made possible by a Grant from the National Science Foundation to Gibson (“Creating a State-Level Public Opinion Data Base for Law and Courts Scholarship: New Frontiers in Research on the Public’s Views of Third Branch Politics,” SES 1228619). The Freedom and Tolerance Surveys upon which this paper relies were funded by the Weidenbaum Center at Washington University in St. Louis. We greatly appreciate the support provided for this research by Steven S. Smith, Director of the Center. We also appreciate the thoughtful comments and suggestions provided by Adam Green, George Marcus, Lauren McLaren, David Muchlinski, Neil Munro, Niccole Pamphilis, Mark Peffley, Paul Sniderman, and Karen Wright on an earlier version of the paper. Replication materials are available on the Political Behavior Dataverse (

Supplementary material

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social and Political SciencesUniversity of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA
  3. 3.Centre for Comparative and International PoliticsStellenbosch UniversityStellenboschSouth Africa

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