Political Tolerance and Territorial Threat: A Cross-National Study


Marc L. Hutchison is a Ph.D. candidate, Department of Political Science, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506-0027. Douglas M. Gibler is assistant professor of political science, University of Alabama, 314 Ten Hoor Hall, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487-0213.


The Steps-to-War theory of international conflict argues that territorial issues are more salient than other issues domestically. However, the evidence for this conclusion almost always rests with international conflict outcomes, assuming away the domestic political processes leading to greater salience. In the tolerance literature, several studies note that political attitudes, particularly toward unpopular groups, vary systematically across different states but provide few explanations that account for these differences. We believe these two observations are linked and argue that territorial threats serve as one factor conditioning individual political attitudes that privilege national unity over freedom of expression. Using World Values Survey data collected from 33 countries, and Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) techniques, our paper confirms this. We find evidence that the type of external threat facing a country matters in moderating individual attitudes, even after controlling for economic and institutional differences across the states sampled. Specifically, we demonstrate how the diffusion from territorial threats to domestic audiences results in a chilling effect on individual willingness to extend democratic freedoms. Thus, we show that territorial issues exhibit greater salience domestically than other types of international issues.