This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Effect of Political Knowledge on Political Tolerance




Hall, John Powell

Type of Degree



Political Science


Traditional democratic theory holds that an educated electorate, capable of making informed decisions regarding government policy, is required to maintain a healthy relationship between the government and the governed (Bardes and Oldendick 2012). A “paradox of modern democracy” has been identified in that the contemporary American electorate is largely uninformed about a host of details concerning the American governing system and policy issues (Carpini and Keeter 1996). Explorations of specific levels of knowledge about government have shown that Americans are disturbingly uninformed about the Constitution, basic government functions, national history, and basic economic principles (Cribb 2008). According to past research (Carpini and Keeter 1996), political knowledge can affect individual opinions on social tolerance. Given the wide range of diversity in the American population, it is important to further explore the effect of political knowledge on social tolerance. This study examines how knowledge of the American Constitution affects social tolerance toward gay rights, specifically same-sex marriage. In addition, this study examines how the framing effect influences political tolerance toward marriage equality. The framing effect is seen when different presentations of an issue cause different reactions among those who are exposed to that issue. Using a pretest/posttest quasi-experimental survey design, I found statistically significant relationships between respondents who were given educational lectures involving the U.S. Constitution and increases in their political tolerance toward marriage equality. In addition, this study found the framing effect to be influential in increasing the political tolerance of the respondents toward same-sex marriage. These results shed light on the possibility of increasing the political tolerance of Americans toward same-sex marriage. This research also identified the ability of increased knowledge to affect public opinion in general, which could be of great importance to individuals studying electoral politics, minority discrimination, and public-opinion theory. Finally, this research identified the ability of contact with minority groups to increase political tolerance toward those groups.