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Increasing American Political Tolerance: A Framework Excluding Hate Speech

Socius Sociological Research for a Dynamic World

According to prior research, political tolerance has either stagnated since the 1970s (if to be tolerant one must be tolerant of every group in all circumstances) or steadily increased (if tolerance is measured using an index, averaging across groups). Using General Social Survey cross-sectional and panel data on civil liberties, this article proposes a new framework: separating out the groups that use hate speech from those that may be only controversial. The United States is unique among Western liberal democracies in not having a prohibition against hate speech. By applying a dichotomous hate speech framework to measuring political tolerance, this article finds that the proportion of Americans who are always tolerant has increased by 8 percentage points from 1996 to 2018. Meanwhile, tolerance of groups that use hate speech has remained flat and even decreased among groups that historically were more tolerant of such groups, including the college educated.