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SPP 291

Title: AN EXPERIMENT IN PERSUADING RUSSIANS TO TOLERATE
 
Author: Professor James L. Gibson
 
Description: This paper presents 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 counter-arguments, focusing on the problem of political tolerance. This requires 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, based on a 1996 survey of the Russian mass public, used an experimental research design. Political tolerance was more pliable than intolerance. Perceptions of group threat not only produce intolerance, but they also render the intolerant resistant to persuasion, while making the tolerant susceptible to persuasion. Strong tolerant attitudes are more susceptible to persuasion, in part due to their connection to other democratic values that "trump" tolerance, and dogmatism facilitates persuasion, probably 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.

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