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Education and Political Tolerance
Testing the Effects of Cognitive
Sophistication and Target Group Affect
Lawrence Bobo and Fredrick C. Licari
• To identify more precisely the underlying
traits that higher levels of education are
frequently assumed to impart
• To perform a stringent test of the educationtolerance relationship that takes into
account feelings of approval or disapproval
of the target group whose rights are in
The Case for Education
• Nunn and colleagues: Increasing years of
education were part of a learning process that
enhanced cognitive skills, cultural knowledge, and
cognitive flexibility.
• McClosky (1964): Education played a large part in
the finding that his sample of “political
influentials” was more supportive of democratic
ideology than the “mass electorate.”
• Lawrence (1976): The highly educated were more
likely to apply general norms of tolerance to
groups they disliked.
The Case against Education
• Jackman (1973): Poorly educated respondents
were likely than the highly educated to agree with
simple, strongly worded questions that posed only
one side of an issue.
• Sullivan et al. (1979): the relationship between
education and tolerance is largely artifactual.
• Stouffer (1955): The highly educated were more
favorably disposed toward left-learning groups
than the poorly educated.
• First hypothesis: cognitive sophistication
largely mediates the relationship between
education and tolerance.
• Second hypothesis: Education enhances
tolerance even when the target group is
disapproved or disliked.
The Analysis Process
• To develop a scale of political tolerance
• To test the cognitive sophistication hypothesis in a
multiple regression framework, using a Civil
Liberties scale that involves five separate groups
spanning the political spectrum
• To test for education and cognitive sophistication
effects on tolerance of four separate target groups
among those respondents holding explicitly
negative attitudes toward the target group
Data and Measures
• The 1984 General Social Survey
• The number of completed cases: 1,473
(a response rate of 78.6%)
• Control variables: family income, age, gender,
race, religious denomination, region of the country,
urbanicity, psychological insecurity, and political
• Cognitive sophistication measure: the number of
correct answers to a ten-word vocabulary test
Control variables
• We treat religious denomination as three dummy variables,
with the nonreligious as the omitted category and Jews,
Catholics, and Protestants each identified in separate
dummy variables.
• Psychological insecurity is measured with a three-item
scale concerned with level of faith or trust in people.
• Political ideology is measured by respondent’s selfplacement on a seven-point scale running from extremely
liberal at one end, through middle of the road, to extremely
conservative at the opposite end.
Cognitive sophistication measure
Three Fundamental Speak
Civil Liberties Issues
related to Freedom Teach
of Expression
Members of Five Nonconformist Groups
Atheist speak
Communist speak
Racist speak
Militarist speak
Homosexual speak
Atheist teach
Communist teach
Racist teach
Militarist teach
Homosexual teach
Atheist book
Communist book
Racist book
Militarist book
Homosexual book
• Dichotomous responses:
“favor(1)” or “not favor(0)”
“allow(1)” or “not allow(0)”
“fired(1)” or “not fired(0)”
A Question
• Is tolerance a unidimensional construct that
includes groups of left-and right-wing ideology
and several types of acts or forms of expression?
An Answer
• There is a strong general tolerance dimension that
includes groups from the left and right ends of the
political spectrum.
• There is a general tolerance dimension that
embraces groups from both ends of the political
• Education is strongly related to tolerance, even for
a wide array of groups and even among those
respondents explicitly opposed to the target group.
• Cognitive sophistication accounts for a substantial
fraction of the effect of education on tolerance.
Why is This Study Important?
• To focus on both types of groups (left- and right
wing target groups)
• To underestimate tolerance of nonconformist but
less extreme groups and the connection of
education to the latter
• To concern attitudes toward the expression of
particular points of view, but not attitudes toward
broad social categories (gender, race, and class)
Extreme Groups
• The Ku Klux Klan
• The Black Panthers
• The Symbionese Liberation Army
• They are not advocates of nonconformist
viewpoints because they have histories of
violence and criminal activity.