Year of Publication


Document Type



Arts and Sciences


Political Science

First Advisor

Mark Peffley


Although largely overlooked in much of the previous research on political tolerance, I argue that contextual factors, specifically state-level features, play a significant role in influencing individual tolerance judgments. Drawing from extant theories of public opinion, international conflict, and political institutions, I seek to further our understanding of the determinants of political tolerance by trying to answer the following question: What accounts for the significant differences in political tolerance levels across countries? While models using individual-level predictors account for some of the disparity in tolerance levels, a substantial amount remains unexplained. I assert that several macro-level theoretical frameworks offer compelling explanations for the marked difference in tolerance levels across countries. Specifically, I examine the effect of state-level external threats, internal threats, and the role of domestic political institutions in shaping individual attitudes towards unpopular groups. To test my propositions, I use data from the 1995-1997 World Values survey as well as multi-level statistical modeling to estimate the aggregate effects of state-level factors on political tolerance levels across 33 countries while also controlling for individual-level predictors.This dissertation demonstrates that elevated objective threats to the state, whether international disputes or incidents of civil conflict, serve to dampen overall tolerance levels. In doing so, this study also highlights that not all types of external threat resonateequally amongst the public. Individuals in countries involved in territorial disputes or countries targeted in international disputes are generally less tolerant overall than those in countries involved in disputes over other issues. In terms of domestic political institutions, I find that electoral rules designed to build consensus and ameliorate societal tensions among groups may actually serve to foster intolerance in countries under certain conditions. Finally, my analyses reveal that the effect of democratic longevity on political tolerance levels is actually conditional based on the type of political institutions that exist in a country. Overall, the findings discovered here underscore the importance of contextual factors in shaping political tolerance levels across countries and stresses the need for this type of analysis in future studies of political tolerance.