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A Sober Second Thought: An Experiment in Persuading Russians to Tolerate

James L. Gibson
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 42, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pp. 819-850
DOI: 10.2307/2991731
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2991731
Page Count: 32
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A Sober Second Thought: An Experiment in Persuading Russians to Tolerate
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Abstract

Theory: In this paper, I present a new way of thinking about the responses Russians give to survey questions. Rather than accepting initial replies as reflecting an obdurate attitude, I treat respondents' first answers as an "opening bid." I then proceed to determine whether these expressed attitudes can be manipulated through the presentation of counterarguments. Focusing on the problem of political tolerance, I have, in essence, required the respondents to give the matter of extending civil liberties to their political enemies a "sober second thought." Relying on theories of persuasibility, I test several hypotheses about the sort of person and attitudes susceptible to persuasion. Methods: My analysis is based on a 1996 survey of the Russian mass public. I used an experimental research design embedded within the survey, with random assignment of respondents to treatments. I test the hypotheses using OLS. Results: This experiment in persuasion was quite effective at converting the initial responses. But following some earlier research, political tolerance was more pliable than intolerance. As expected, perceptions of group threat not only produce intolerance, but they also render the intolerant resistant to persuasion, while making the tolerant susceptible to persuasion. Unanticipated results include the finding that strong tolerant attitudes are more susceptible to persuasion, in part due to their connection to other democratic values that "trump" tolerance, and that dogmatism facilitates persuasion, most likely because the dogmatic give cursory initial responses to our questions. Ultimately, the configuration of attitudes-both the levels of tolerance and their manipulability-supports pessimistic conclusions about the ability of the Russian mass public to develop the political tolerance essential for the consolidation of the democratic transformation. Survey researchers must be mindful of the plasticity of Russian attitudes and values and pursue research strategies that fully acknowledge the dynamics of cultural change within transitional polities.

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