Political Tolerance, Racist Speech, and the Influence of Social Networks


  • *Direct correspondence to Allison Harell, Département de science politique, Université du Québec à Montréal, C.P. 8888, Succ. Centre Ville, Montréal, QC (Canada) H3C 3P8 〈harell.allison@uqam.ca〉. The author will share data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. The author is grateful to the principal investigator of the Canadian Youth Study, Dietlind Stolle, for her collaboration in collecting the data used for this project, as well as to Blake Andrew, Antje Ellerman, Elisabeth Gidengil, Jon Hurwitz, Stuart Soroka, and two anonymous reviewers for useful comments provided on earlier drafts. The Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Société et la Culture (FQRSC) provided financial support for the data collection, and the American Association of University Women provided funding to the author.


Objective. This study examines the influence of ethnic and racial network diversity on young people's attitudes about speech rights in Canada by examining the impact of diversity on racist groups' speech compared to other objectionable speech.

Methods. After reviewing prior work on diversity and political tolerance judgments, the study presents multinomial logistic regressions to assess the impact of network diversity on three types of political tolerance dispositions. The data are drawn from the Canadian Youth Study, a sample of 10th- and 11th-grade students in Quebec and Ontario (N=3,334).

Results. The analysis suggests that exposure to racial and ethnic diversity in one's social networks decreases political tolerance of racist speech while simultaneously having a positive effect on political tolerance of other types of objectionable speech.

Conclusions. The dual effects arguably represent an evolving norm of multicultural political tolerance, in which citizens endorse legal limits on racist speech. Future work should assess the extent to which target group distinctions in political tolerance judgments have evolved over time and across age cohorts.